Ukraine Can't Stop Russia's Advance Without Long-Range Rockets

Ukraine Can't Stop Russia's Advance Without Long-Range Rockets

If Ukraine cannot achieve air superiority, the best hope they have to stop the missile bombardments is to destroy mobile Russian launchers and launch sites.

The Pentagon announced this week that the latest $1 billion aid package to Ukraine contains new mobile artillery systems, trucks to tow the artillery, and ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) and HIMARS have been delivered thus far and U.S. allies are helping as well. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described efforts to help Ukraine at a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. 

“We're providing Ukraine's defenders with HIMARS and multiple launch rocket systems, and that will significantly boost Ukraine's capabilities, especially when combined with additional donations of NATO-standard rocket systems from the U.K. and our other allies,” Austin said at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. 

News reports and Pentagon assessments continue to report that long-range Russian rockets, artillery, and cruise missiles continue to terrorize and kill Ukrainian civilians in an attempt to break the will of the Ukrainian public and its military. Thus far, it has not worked. However, indiscriminate missile attacks on Ukraine do have a tactical impact since they can weaken defenses, remove obstacles, and deplete forces massed to counter their advance. 

Therefore, are HIMARS and MLRS enough to blunt the Russian advance? Clearly, if they cannot achieve air superiority, the best hope Ukrainians have to stop the missile bombardments is to destroy mobile Russian launchers and launch sites. If there were a way that surveillance assets, which the United States and its allies partners have shared with Ukraine, could provide targeting specifics and movement information about Russian missile launchers, perhaps they could be destroyed by long-range ground fires from Ukraine. 

However, are the rocket systems provided by the United States and its NATO allies capable of matching the range of Russian heavy artillery? Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, which are precision-guided with GPS, can travel as far as eighty kilometers, yet the Pentagon and its Western allies have long-range weapons able to travel several hundred miles. This means that Ukraine could possibly receive missiles and rockets capable of traveling 200 or 300 miles inside Russia to destroy launch sites. 

These kinds of weapons, it would seem, might offer Ukrainian defenders the best hope of slowing down or stopping Russia’s war of attrition against their cities by holding Russian missile launchers at risk. 

Alongside these offensive and counterattack strike capabilities, it seems that Ukrainian forces might also need different kinds of air defenses, such as missile interceptors. The Pentagon says they cannot send Patriot missiles because they would require United States personnel to operate inside of Ukraine and train Ukrainian forces on how to use the system. Such a move would risk an otherwise avoidable escalation, raising the risk of provoking a Russian attack against NATO. However, why can’t the United States simply train the Ukrainians on how to use Patriot interceptor missiles on NATO’s eastern flank? That might make sense, as the Patriot is a proven system that would be capable of tracking and intercepting incoming Russian rockets. 

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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