As the war in Ukraine has turned from Russia’s failed attempt to quickly take the capital and remove leadership to a slow and grueling battle in the East. Ukraine has said that one weapon system in particular had made a huge difference in its effort to fend off the Russian invasion.It’s the U.S. manufactured M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS, an artillery launcher on wheels on wheels. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has praised it, the Ukrainian Army is singing about it, and the Kremlin recently made destroying them a priority. HIMARS is, like the Javelin before it, a weapon of war that has become a meme and a symbol of the wider conflict.
Like the Javelin, HIMARS is a relatively new weapon system. It was developed by Lockheed Martin as a mobile and flexible rocket and missile launcher at the turn of the century. The U.S. plans to send a total of 12 of the systems to Ukraine. Eight have already arrived and are in use and four more are on the way.
HIMARS is basically a truck with a pod on the back that can fire a variety of missiles and rockets. Along with the actual trucks themselves, the U.S. has sent hundreds of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rockets. Each HIMARS pod can hold six. The weapon fires from the back of the truck and is guided to its target using GPS. The rockets are expensive, but unlike some of the artillery that’s been playing a bigger role in the war since it shifted to the Eastern part of the country, the GPS lends them a high degree of precision that makes targeted strikes extremely effective.
The HIMARS also has a long range compared to other artillery units. GMLRS have a range of about 50 miles, double that of a modern U.S. howitzer and well out of range of Russian artillery. The range, precision, and mobility of the HIMARS has allowed Ukraine to strike at Russia’s logistics and supply lines without fear of immediate retaliation. They’re blowing up Russian ammo depots and logistical centers with impunity. Ukraine has said repeatedly that Russia has it outgunned, but it appears these precision strikes have slowed the Kremlin’s advance.
“HIMARS have already made a HUUUGE difference on the battlefield,” Oleski Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, said in a tweet on July 9. “More of them as well as 🇺🇸 ammo & equipment will increase our strength and help to demilitarize the terrorist state. I highly appreciate the efforts of the [President of the United States] and [the U.S. Secretary of Defense] to support Ukraine’s struggle for freedom!”
The effect of the HIMARS on the battlefield has been startling. A map of Russian missile strikes from July 8 to 12 shows a marked drop off after Ukraine began hammering Russian with the weapons system. Videos of targets being destroyed have filled up Telegram and YouTube channels watching the war. Russian sources have claimed that HIMARS wiped out most of the leadership of the Russian 106th Airborne and 20th Mobilized Rifle Divisions.
As reports of the destruction of Russian supplies by the HIMARS rolled, people online began hyping the weapon. The St. Javelin charity—which raises money for Ukraine by selling meme laden shirts and other merchandise—has a line of St. HIMARS merchandise. Ukrainian musician Taras Borovok, who previously recorded a song praising the Bayraktar drone, has released a new single all about the HIMARS. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine shared the video on its official Facebook account.
Russia has lost so much so quickly from HIMARS that Sergei Shoigu, the Kremlin’s Minister of Defense, called for the military to prioritize the destruction of the weapons. "Army General Sergei Shoigu, noting the strengthening of the group's strike capabilities, gave instructions to the commander to prioritize the defeat of the enemy's long-range missile and artillery weapons with high-precision weapons,” the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, said on Telegram.
The GMLRS 50 mile range is enormous, but the HIMARS is capable of firing missiles that could go much much farther. The HIMAR is also capable of firing massive Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) that have a range of 186 miles. Ukraine has asked for the missiles, but Biden has declined so far. “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” he said in an op-ed published in the New York Times in May.
ATACMS would put both Crimea and the borders of Russia within reach of Ukraine’s military. Ukrainian military officials have already suggested they will use HIMARS to strike at military targets in Crimea. The disputed region was annexed by Russia in 2014 and most of the West has not recognized it as a Russian territory. After Ukraine said it might strike the region, former Russian President Dmitry Meddvedav said that any strike in the region, HIMARS or otherwise, would provoke a “Judgement Day” response from Russia.