The Biden administration plans to send an unknown amount of Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles to Ukraine, according to multiple media reports. The decision comes after Kyiv asked for them for months.
NBC News, citing multiple defense officials as well as a member of Congress familiar with the matter, said that President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the U.S. will supply Ukraine with the missiles. The long-range missiles can be fired from High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which the U.S. has already supplied to Ukraine.
The arms transfer is a victory for Ukraine, which has been seeking the weapon systems since 2022. The missiles set to be sent to Ukraine will be a variant armed with a cluster warhead. Depending on the exact model, they can strike as far as 190 miles away, potentially allowing Ukraine to launch attacks deep into Russian territory. On Wednesday, Ukraine used Storm Shadow missiles to strike the command center of the Russian Black Sea fleet at its port in Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.
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The decision to send ATACMS to Ukraine reverses previous efforts by the United States to limit the capabilities of HIMARS. In December 2022 it was reported that the HIMARS sent to Ukraine were modified to be unable to fire ATACMS missiles. It’s unclear what will be done to undo those modifications with the delivery of the rockets, or how long it will take to field them.
The HIMARS weapon system has been a major asset for Ukraine during the war. The speed and firepower of the platforms have allowed Ukrainian troops to launch devastating attacks at Russian positions. Russian forces in turn have tried to take out the missile launchers, a tactic Ukraine has countered in part with the use of decoys.
Earlier this week Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate, told our colleagues at The War Zone that Ukraine will need large numbers of ATACMS, saying that “[…] I can say conditionally that if it’s 100 missiles, this won’t change the situation.”
When asked if Ukraine needed thousands, Budanov clarified that the country needs “at least hundreds.”
The export of artillery and missile systems to Ukraine also requires sending thousands of rounds of ammunition to fuel their operations. That has been particularly draining on the U.S. military’s stockpile of 155mm artillery rounds, used for the M1777 howitzer. Last year the Department of Defense admitted that the war was depleting the American supply and that the military was going to work to increase and speed up manufacturing of new rounds. Earlier this month the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment said that the U.S. aims to be manufacturing 100,000 rounds per month in 2025.
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