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Ukraine received a hammer from the US on the Russians: What ATACMS tactical missiles can do

The Ukrainian government has long urged the United States to provide it with HIMARS artillery rocket launchers as well as ATACMS ballistic missiles, capable of destroying high-priority targets deep behind the front lines with a powerful conventional warhead. In April, the Ukrainians finally received their first rockets and already had time to use them. ATACMS has become a kind of hammer on the Russian army for them.

ATACMS tactical missile launch

| Photo: Wikimedia Commons, US Army, Public domain

Through the eyes of Jiří VojáčekThrough the eyes of Jiří VojáčekSource: DiaryArtillery rocket launchers were used by most armies during the second world war. After the war, their development continued especially in Europe and the Soviet Union. In the first half of the 1960s, he introduced the BM-21 set into the arsenal, which was supplemented by the more powerful BM-27 in the 1970s. On the other hand, the US Army has not been active in introducing modern artillery rocket systems for a long time, having used exclusively the M8 and M16 war models for many years. After being on battlefields of the Middle East the tactic of shelling targets deep in the enemy’s rear using salvo rocket launchers able to cover a large area at once, the Americans realized that exactly this tactic they intended to use in a possible war in Europe. That is why they hastily started the development of their own mobile artillery missile system.

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In 1976, the Pentagon announced a tender, the aim of which was to develop and manufacture a means of anti-battery combat, which was to focus mainly on the destruction of anti-aircraft defenses in the depth of the enemy’s operational space and subsequently on the direct support of combat units. During the preparations, companies from several Western European member countries were approached for cooperation NATO, especially the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain. A consortium of Vought and Boeing was declared the winner of the tender the following year, and in 1982 the system was officially accepted into service.

MLRS Artillery Rocket Launcher, US Army Exercise 1982MLRS Artillery Rocket Launcher, US Army Exercise 1982Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

The M270 MLRS system consists of two basic parts. The M993 tracked chassis, which was developed based on the chassis of the American M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and the M269 launcher. It carries two missile containers placed next to each other. Both carry six 227 mm rockets with a typical length of 394 cm in a 3×2 layout.


At the end of the 1990s, in the atmosphere of the general termination of the development of heavy military systems and their replacement by lighter ones, a lightweight version of the M270 began to be created in cooperation with the companies BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. It bears the name M142 HIMARS, which is an acronym for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. As it turned out, this was a shrewd move, as strategic mobility was more important than heavy armor in the expeditionary wars of the first decade of the 21st century.

HIMARSHIMARSSource: Shutterstock/Mike Mareen

M142 HIMARS consists of one six-barrel MLRS missile launcher mounted on a standard five-ton M1140 truck of the FMTV family. The weight of the new system has been reduced to 10,900 kg, which makes it possible to transport it with a standard C-130 Hercules medium transport aircraft. The HIMARS rocket launcher has already been deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and in addition to traditional Middle Eastern customers, Poland, Romania and Estonia are buying it.

MGM-140 ATACMS ballistic missile

At the end of the 70s, it took place in United Statesh the Assault Breaker technology demonstrator program, which aimed to conceptually develop the idea of ​​a tactical ballistic missile carrying a guided submunition. Research within the demonstrator was followed up by the JTACMS (Joint Tactical Missile System) program in 1983, which combined two other Air Force and Ground Forces projects to produce a powerful land-based missile system with high-quality terminal guidance. Tests of the Block I version took place between 1986 and 1989, after which the system was formally introduced into service as the MGM-140 ATACMS.

Source: Youtube

The MGM-140 solid propellant ballistic missile weighs 1,670 kg and with a caliber of 610 mm and a length of 3,962 mm is capable of attacking targets at a distance of 160 kilometers (Block I version) or 300 kilometers (Block IA). The original version of the missile has only inertial guidance, the Block IA version also added a GPS satellite signal correction receiver. The rocket launcher is capable of carrying two pieces of rockets, one in each of two modified rocket bays.

The ATACMS type entered combat relatively soon after its introduction. According to the document The Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, released by the US Department of Defense in April 1992, a total of 32 units were fired at Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. The system saw further deployment in Afghanistan and especially during the second war in Iraq, where, according to documents from the manufacturer Lockheed Martin, over 450 MGM-140 missiles were launched. By 2015, a total of over 500 pieces were used in combat.

PRSM and Ukraine

Meanwhile, the US military is focusing on a successor to the ATACMS, being developed under the LRPF/PRSM requirement by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. The new missile is smaller (91 kg warhead), so the MLRS system will be able to carry four. At the same time, however, it will be more powerful, the range of 500 km is to be formally limited only by the Soviet-American treaty on the limitation of medium-range missiles, which both sides recently denounced. However, it is possible that the PRSM program will yield even more powerful types, such as the development of new hypersonic missiles with a range of over 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers).

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The United States has long refused to hand over ATACMS missiles to the Ukrainian army, saying that it is a weapon that the Ukrainians could use to attack the Russian interior, which the American administration does not want. Nevertheless, after a long insistence, the first rockets found their way to Ukraine as part of the sixty-billion-dollar aid package approved at the end of April. According to unofficial reports, there were 100 to 110 rockets, with the fact that since then about fifteen of them have already been used, ten at once during the attack on the Crimean air bases of the Russian Air Force on April 30, and three a day later on the training area of ​​the Russian Army.

What is certain is that with ATACMS missiles in Ukraine’s arsenal, strategic installations both on the Crimean peninsula and in both rebel republics will be much more threatened. By destroying a number of ammunition depots, fuel and command posts, the Ukrainian artillery proved that it can perfectly manage the selection of targets.

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