The ‘Game-Changer’ Weapon Ukraine Wants, US Resists Sending

The ‘Game-Changer’ Weapon Ukraine Wants, US Resists Sending

Ukrainian leaders are increasing pressure on the US and its NATO allies to send modern multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) to help blunt Russia’s Donbas offensive.

Western artillery systems – including US M777 howitzers – are already in service on Ukraine’s eastern front, with more on the way. But the Ukrainians say they need more.

MLRS has risen to the top of the Ukrainian shopping list in recent weeks, as the Russian invasion settles into a contest characterized by long-range artillery duels and slow, bloody Russian gains.

Under, Newsweek takes a closer look at the MLRS, the role it could play in the war, and why Washington has so far resisted calls to send them into Ukraine.

What is MLRS?

US MLRS firing in South Korea exercise
A US multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) fires during a training exercise in the South Korean border town of Cheorwon June 12, 2012. Ukraine wants the US-made MLRS to help stop the Russian invasion.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GettyImages

Mounted on vehicles, these rocket launchers offer more mobility than howitzers, allowing troops to escape Russian counter-battery fire.

The US has two MLRS variants.

  • M270: first produced in 1983. The missiles can hit targets between 20 and 60 miles away, with more advanced missiles traveling more than 100 miles
  • M142 HIMARS: developed in the late 1990s. The standard missiles can hit targets 186 miles away, while specialized precision munitions are effective up to 310 miles

By comparison, M777 howitzers have given Ukraine a peak range of about 25 miles.

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Why Ukraine wants them

Thursday, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine tweeted a video of a Russian blockade against defenders’ positions in Donetsk oblast. “Ukraine is ready to fight back,” it says. “To do this we need NATO-style MLRS. Immediately.”

– Russia is now using artillery extensively and recklessly, Oleksandr Merezhko, head of the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Newsweek. “To counter this, to save the lives of our servicemen and civilians, we need the MLRS.”

Ukraine already has an arsenal of Soviet-era MLRS, which the US and its NATO allies have replenished using old stockpiles from the Cold War. But replacement ammunition is only mass-produced in Russia. Kyiv says it needs Western alternatives to fill the gap.

US launchers would allow Ukrainians to target more Russian artillery batteries and attackers at longer ranges. The extended range will also threaten Russian logistics hubs and routes, which will slow the offensive.

They could also help Ukraine lift the blockade of its ports, end the Russian blockade in the Black Sea and target Russian cruise missile sites firing from Crimea, Ryzhenko said.

Extended artillery range “is very important to us,” he noted.

This was told by Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region where fierce fighting is taking place Newsweek on Thursday that more artillery support could be a “game-changer”.

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“We need precise, long-range artillery,” he said. “Lots of guns and lots of grenades.”

Why the US hasn’t sent them

President Joe Biden is not yet keen on the weapons for Ukraine.

Politicowho spoke to an unnamed Biden administration official last week, reported concerns in the White House that providing technologically advanced, destructive and long-range US MLRS and HIMARS would be interpreted as escalation by Moscow.

Biden and other NATO leaders have constantly emphasized that the transatlantic alliance cannot be drawn into direct confrontation with Moscow.

The shell explodes near the Donbas road Russia invasion
A mortar explodes next to the road leading to the town of Lysychansk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, May 23, 2022, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The battle for Donbas has been characterized by intense artillery duels, which Ukraine says the MLRS would help them win.
ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images

Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are agitating for action on the MLRS anyway. “We have to make sure we’re giving them what they actually need,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said this week. “To me, this would include an example of what are called multiple launch rocket systems, or MLRS, which they are asking for.”

Western nations have established a steady flow of weapons into Ukraine despite such concerns. There is hope in Kyiv that the MLRS will also soon be deemed appropriate.

– The fact that our diplomats are raising this issue indicates that there are high chances of getting MLRS, Merezhko said. “I suppose that could happen … The United States often takes the lead in giving us military aid, and for other states it serves as a good example to follow.”

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Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

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