By SANYA MANSOOR
On New Year’s Day, Ukraine used American-made rockets to kill dozens—and possibly hundreds—of Russian soldiers within its borders. (Russian officials said the strike resulted in the deaths of 89 service members, while Ukrainian officials suggest the casualties are in the hundreds.) It marks one of Ukraine’s deadliest attacks on Russian forces in the war.
Officials from both countries say that HIMARS rockets, which are satellite-guided weapons with a range of about 50 miles, were used in the attack.
The U.S. first provided Ukraine with long-range HIMARS rockets back in June; they offered roughly twice the range of the weaponry that Kyiv were previously using.
Here’s what to know about HIMARS rockets, and why they have become essential for Ukraine’s war operations.
What are HIMARS rockets?
HIMARS, produced by Lockheed Martin, stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
“HIMARS is one of the world’s most advanced rocket artillery systems; its range is farther than anything the Ukrainians had, so when that was transferred they did get the ability to strike targets deeper behind the front-lines and much more accurately,” says Ian Williams, deputy director of CSIS’s Missile Defense Project.
They are considered most effective for attacking stationary targets such as infrastructure and troops in a concentrated area.
HIMARS rockets have been integral for Ukraine in a defensive and offensive capacity in the war against Russia, experts say. “HIMARS have liberated strategically significant Ukrainian cities and territory that likely otherwise wouldn’t have happened… It’s a glowing report card,” says George Barros, an analyst on the Russia and Ukraine portfolio at the Institute for the Study of War.
How has Ukraine used HIMARS rockets against Russia?
HIMARS rockets have been particularly effective in fighting Russia’s offensive in Donbas by allowing Ukraine to attack Russian supply and ammunition depots.
They were also crucial in forcing Russia to withdraw from Kherson. “That was only possible because the Ukrainians had this extended strike capability to degrade those bridges. Without the HIMARS, I don’t think the Ukrainians would have liberated Kherson,” Barros says.
Until the New Year’s Day attack, HIMARS rockets had mostly been used to target Russian infrastructure. “What’s different about the recent strike is that they hit an area where there happened to be a lot of Russian military personnel, so there was a very high casualty count,” Williams says. “What we’ve seen until now is HIMARS being used to target Russian logistics and weapon and artillery stockpiles.”
The U.S. role in supplying HIMARS to Ukraine
The U.S. has supplied at least 20 HIMARS launchers to Ukraine. Their announcement to provide the weapons in June was part of a larger $700 million military aid package.
U.S. officials say that there are certain restrictions placed on the HIMARS rockets provided to Ukraine. They can’t fire ATACMS missiles, which have a range of almost 200 miles. The U.S. also sought Ukrainian assurances that HIMARS would not be fired into Russian territory.
Analysts say these kinds of restrictions are the U.S.’ way of preventing their support for Ukraine from growing into a larger conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
Some call for the U.S. to continue to limit the kinds of weapons provided to Ukraine. “The United States should avoid encouraging or facilitating a Ukrainian effort to fully expel Russian forces from all of its territory, including Crimea, a war aim that would run too high a risk of prompting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to undertake even more reckless actions, including the possible use of nuclear weapons,” said Charles Kupchan, the top National Security Council official for Europe during the Obama administration, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But Williams says the idea that U.S. weapons used to strike targets inside of Russia, as opposed to homegrown systems, could be seen as more escalatory is flawed. “I don’t think that’s the case personally but that seems to be a line that the [Biden] administration has drawn,” he says.
As the war continues, Ukraine’s access to effective weaponry will be key in shaping their response to Russian aggression. Even with the HIMARS, they are requesting Western allies to also provide them with tanks; the U.S. has refused.
Barros worries that restrictions on weapons may hamstring Ukraine’s efforts to fight back effectively. “We’re not going to get into World War III with Russia by sending Ukrainian weapons [and]… sending them longer range artillery,” he says.
(Sources : time.com)
Makiivka attack: Could mobile phones have revealed Russian location?
Analysis by Jonathan Beale, Defence correspondent
The Russian defence ministry says mobile phones used by their own forces allowed Ukraine to destroy a building, killing dozens of conscripts in the eastern city of Makiivka.
“This factor allowed the enemy to locate and determine the co-ordinates of the military personnel for a missile strike,” it said in a statement.
Ukraine said around 400 Russian military personnel were killed in the attack on New Year’s Day. The Russian authorities said 89 people died.
Could mobile phones have located the soldiers?
There have been widespread reports in Western media since the beginning of the war about both sides’ abilities to intercept and geo-locate phone calls for targeting purposes.
In March last year, weeks after the start of the invasion, the New York Times quoted an unnamed American official saying the Ukrainians had been able to intercept the call of a Russian general, geo-locate it, and kill him and his staff.
Also in March, a Sky News piece highlighted the Russian Leer-3 system which flies drones above the target area, which can mimic mobile phone receiver masts, and trick phones to communicate with them.
These drones can then relay this information to a base station in nearby safe territory, from where the positions of the phones can then be located.
But while it’s widely believed that both sides have the ability to track mobile phones, some commentators have expressed doubts about this explanation for the Makiivka attack.
The BBC Russian service has spoken before to newly mobilised conscripts, who say that their phones are taken away as soon as they arrive at their units.
But at the same time, there have also been reports of Russians using mobile phones at the front because of the lack of other equipment. That might explain why some conscripts could have retained theirs.
Russian authorities appear to blame their soldiers’ own use of mobile phones. But if true, that begs the question why was discipline so lax?
Most militaries enforce the importance of operational security and personal security while on operations – including limiting the use of mobile phones.
There appears to have been other lapses too. A large concentration of troops in one building, where ammunition was also stored, would have made an obvious target.
Movements and patterns of life could have been observed by satellite or drones. While long-range rockets like Himars have helped Ukraine, it’s the intelligence behind those strikes that have made the real difference.
The attack on Makiivka shows that Russia is still struggling to learn from past mistakes. This is not the first time the Ukrainians have targeted a military barracks.
But one thing has changed. Justin Crump, head of the security consultancy Sibyline, says the criticism within Russia shows there’s now less tolerance of such incompetence.
However, rather than focussing on the loss of life, many critics in Russia see it as a justification for escalation.
What was destroyed in the attack?
The Russian ministry of defence says the Ukrainians hit a temporary military headquarters in Makiivka.
One video of the aftermath shows a building totally destroyed by the attack. Commenters on social media quickly identified it as Vocational School No 19.
Searching for that name online threw up a photograph that we compared with a satellite image of the building at the attack site (prior to its destruction) to find a match.
No evidence is available pointing to large amounts of ammunition having been stored in the building.
But in a tweet the UK ministry of defence said this scenario was possible “given the extent of the damage” to the site.
US missiles were used, says Russia
The Russian authorities say that a Himars missile system, provided to Ukraine by the United States, was used in the attack.
Shortly after the strike, the Ukrainian defence ministry published a tweet showing a missile launch, with the single word of text: “Surprise“.
Himars – the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – is a missile launcher mounted on a five-tonne truck which can fire six guided missiles in quick succession.
The missiles supplied to Ukraine have a range of up to 50 miles (80 km), which is over twice the range of the howitzers which the US has previously given to Ukraine.
The US has committed to supplying Ukraine with 38 of these systems, and it’s been reported that 20 have been delivered since the start of the conflict.
(Sources : bbc.com)