Are these the first effects of western arms shipments? In the past three days, Russian units have not gained any more ground, writes the British military intelligence service in its daily assessment on Thursday.
That would fit with the current Ukrainian strategy: Kiev’s troops are firing at ammunition depots and command posts far behind the front line with the US-supplied Himars rocket launchers. Dozens of targets have recently been destroyed, even in the long-contested and now Russian-controlled city of Mariupol.
The magazine “Foreign Policy”, citing Ukrainian military circles, reports that the goal is to destroy every ammunition depot and every Russian command post on Ukrainian soil.
What sounds ambitious is quite possible: the USA has provided Ukraine with several thousand high-precision missiles for the Himars (a third of its own arsenal), and the coordinates of the targets also seem to be known to the leadership in Kyiv.
In addition, the Himars have so far been able to operate undisturbed and very mobile. So far, Russia has not found a way to ward off the attacks, which mostly take place at night. The anti-aircraft defense is powerless against the fast and comparatively low-flying projectiles that hit extremely accurately.
Due to their range of up to 80 kilometers, the Himars cannot be hit by the vast majority of Russian weapons, which have around half the range. The Russians do not yet have drones that could do this.
That is why there is currently horror among Russian military experts and observers, as the US think tank “Institute for the Study of War” reports. No wonder, because the Russian military leadership actually had enough time to adjust to the new weapon.
She had known for weeks that the Himars would arrive at the front. Nevertheless, they left their depots in the places that the Ukrainians knew. The command posts were apparently not better protected and hidden either.
The deployment of the Himars could also herald a new phase of the war. In the Ukraine, at least for a while, imposes its warfare on the Russians and plays to the advantage of its army.
The euphoria among those responsible for the military in Kyiv and among some observers is correspondingly high. In the meantime, Himars – something has been “himarted” – has appeared as a verb on social networks and means something like hitting something very precisely.
The Ukrainians won the battle for Kyiv in March, among other things, by interrupting the Russian supply lines and attacking units from an ambush. The Russian losses were extremely high, and the positions could often no longer be held.
The Himars now allow a similar strategy. Except that the Ukrainians no longer have to penetrate behind enemy lines with soldiers, but use the rockets.
As the New York Times reports, Washington will soon be sending more Himars to Ukraine. According to the NYT, US experts estimate that 60 to 100 of the devices would be needed to finally stop the Russian troops. Four British multiple rocket launchers are also already on site, and three are said to come from Germany.
Contrary to Russian claims, no Himars system has been demonstrably destroyed. 100 Ukrainian soldiers have now been trained on the systems.
The government in Kyiv is also trying to get even longer-range missiles for the Himars from the USA. They can hit targets up to 400 kilometers away. With this, the Ukrainians could also take action against Russian ships in the Black Sea – and targets in Russia itself. The US, in turn, has wanted to avoid this so far. However, Ukraine is said to have promised not to attack any targets on Russian soil with US weapons.
One thing is clear: the situation on the battlefield has already changed with the Himars. Ukraine can increasingly fight from a distance.
Where the Russians in the Donbass forced the Ukrainians into costly artillery battles at a comparatively close range, which Putin’s troops won solely because of the clear material superiority – Moscow has at least three times more artillery and ammunition than Ukraine – the Ukrainians could soon have a decisive advantage in terms of range and have precision.
Because the Ukrainian artillery is also increasingly being able to operate at a distance. Western systems (e.g. the M777 from the USA or the German Panzerhaubitze 2000) shoot further and more precisely than the Russian ones. The Ukraine already has well over 100 artillery systems in service.
This week, the US also announced the delivery of 1,000 Excalibur high-precision artillery shells. They have a range of almost 40 miles (the cost per bullet is around $70,000). They are accurate to within a few meters and were developed, among other things, to avoid civilian casualties from inaccurate ammunition. According to the manufacturer, an Excalibur replaces ten to 50 conventional projectiles.
This hints at how the war might unfold: while Russia continues to rely on munitions-intensive carpet bombing by its artillery, which is far less accurate than Western systems, Ukrainian troops are shifting to a type of sniper work that can do larger ones with fewer expenditures of material effect achieved. Technical superiority is intended to break superiority in mass.
The delivery of the Himars also shows the West what effect their systems can have and how effectively they are being used by the Ukrainians.
This provides good arguments for the Ukrainians, who also want air defense systems and main battle tanks from the NATO countries. Western anti-aircraft defense alone would probably prevent hundreds of Ukrainian civilian deaths, who are now falling victim to Russian rocket terror.
In the end, however, the central question remains: are Kyiv’s new weapons enough for a large-scale counteroffensive? The answer depends on several factors and cannot be given seriously at the moment.
Because the Himars are not intended for offensive operations, they would be more of a support system here. This is where the artillery would come into action. In addition, the Ukrainians need enough infantry, tanks and anti-aircraft defenses against Russian fighter planes to advance. Kyiv has all of this, but to what extent it is unclear after the costly battle in Donbass.
Kyiv has already achieved one goal: it has become much less likely that Russia will be able to conquer large areas of Ukraine.