Why Moscow Hates HIMARS

By Peter Suciu
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Why Moscow Hates HIMARS

October 25th, 2022

8 minute read

The concept of a “multiple rocket launcher,” or MRL, originated in China in the 12th century — but it was little more than a “fire lance” that used early gunpowder to shoot a small lance or large arrow. During the more than year-long Mongol siege of Kaifeng from early April 1232 to late May 1233, the forces of the Chinese Song dynasty employed MRLs, which were essentially boxes mounted on carts that could fire up to 100 fire-arrow rockets. The weapon didn’t break the siege, but it likely contributed to the high losses the Mongol forces took in securing its victory.

m142 himars rocket system firing
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System fires the Army’s new guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during testing at White Sands Missile Range Photo: U.S. Army

It would be several centuries before the concept of MRLs made its way to Europe. Instead, large single-launch rockets had been the norm until the Second World War, which is when the Soviet Red Army introduced its now infamous BM-13 “Katyusha” — named for a popular Russian wartime song.

m142 himars on the move
Staff Sgt. Jordan Worcester commands a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during maneuvers with the Kansas National Guard.

That first self-propelled MRL was actually little more than a rack of launch rails mounted on the back of the truck. Despite the crude design, the BM-13 proved effective, and led to the future development of more advanced MRLs. It also had a lasting legacy, as even today the moniker Katyusha is still named for used to describe the Russian Army’s MRLs.

readying the m142 for combat
U.S. Marines conduct checks on a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System after being unloaded from a Lockheed C-130 Hercules during training. Photo: U.S.M.C./Cpl. Ginnie Lee

Yet, it is now another MRL that is seen to be giving headaches to the Russian military and the leaders in the Kremlin. It is the American-made HIMARS, which has helped turn the tide of war in Ukraine’s favor, since the first units were deployed in late June.

The M142 HIMARS

Until this spring, it is likely that few Americans had even heard of the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or “HIMARS”. However, the light multiple rocket launcher was developed in the early 1990s as a private venture by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and was first publicly unveiled in early 1993.

m142 himars profile view
U.S. Army M142 HIMARS vehicle in Poland in a cooperative mission between U.S., Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and other allied and partner nations. Photo: U.S. Army/Charles Rosemond

It was originally intended for use by U.S. Army airborne troops and United States Marines; able provide a 24-hour, all-weather, lethal, close- and long-range precision rocket and missile fire support for joint forces, early-entry expeditionary forces, contingency forces, and field artillery brigades supporting Brigade Combat Teams.

himars transported in c-130
U.S. Marines guide a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems from a Lockheed C-130 Hercules during training. Photo: U.S.M.C./Cpl. Ginnie Lee

A key attribute of the HIMARS is that it is a C-130 air transportable wheeled launcher mounted on the U.S. military’s five-ton family of Medium Tactical Vehicles XM1140A1 truck chassis. The FMTV 6×6 five-ton truck is powered by a Caterpillar 3135 ATAAC 6.6-liter diesel engine with 290 horsepower. This allows the vehicles, which are assigned to the Army’s Field Artillery Brigades, to be easily deployed to remote locations as needed.

The entire system is operated by a crew of three, including a commander, driver and gunner.

3 man crew of m142
U.S. Marines assigned to Kilo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, pose for a picture in front of an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Photo: U.S.M.C./Cpl. Jonathan L. Gonzalez

As its name suggests, it is a mobile artillery platform that can target an enemy’s location. Unlike the Soviet-era BM-13, which offered essentially no protection to the crew, the HIMARS includes an armored cab. The point of the platform, however, isn’t to be around for an adversary’s counter-fire.

HIMARS Munitions

The HIMARS, which can carry one launch pod containing either six Guided MLRS (GMLRS)/MLRS rockets or one Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile, is actually a “shoot and scoot” platform — meant to arrive at a designated launch site, shoot its payload and roll out before the enemy can return fire. Depending on the armament, the U.S. military’s HIMARS has a range of 5.6 miles to upwards of 300 miles.

rockets for himars
Staff Sgt. Hendrik Rijfkogel, left, gives directions while practicing loading rocket pods in the M142 HIMARS. Photo: U.S. Army

A trained crew can reload the weapon within four to five minutes, assisted by an integrated crane. Reload rockets are carried by an escorting MTVR MK37 resupply vehicle, which carries two sets of reload rockets and is also fitted with an integral crane. The escort truck can further tow a trailer with two additional pods.

Current doctrine for the use of the HIMARS calls for the pods with rockets being unloaded in various locations down a predefined route — where the launcher vehicle travels from location to location, then loads a new pod with rockets and immediately fires them before traveling to a new location to reload. This further allows the vehicle to avoid counter-battery fire.

loading the himars
U.S. Marines with the 10th Marine Regiment load a reduced-range practice rocket in a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Photo: U.S.M.C./Lance Cpl. Megan Ozaki

Game Changer: HIMARS in Ukraine

In late May, the President announced a $700 million military aid package for Ukraine, which included four of the M142 HIMARS to be sent to Ukraine — along with the U.S. military’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems that have a range of striking targets around 40 miles away. The United States Pentagon has actually been cautious of sending weapons to Ukraine that could have the range to strike targets within Russia, and the government in Kyiv has agreed to only use the weapons against Russian positions in the occupied parts of Ukraine.

us soldier training ukraine soldiers
U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson examines an M142 HIMARS with a member of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Germany, June 12, 2022. Photo: U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely

“What the HIMARS will allow them to do is to get greater standoff. Right now, the howitzers we provided them have about a 30 km range; the HIMARS has more than twice that, which will allow them — even with fewer systems — greater standoff,” Colin H. Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters during a June 1 briefing at the Pentagon.

battery of himars firing on a target
Three M142 HIMARS from 27 Field Artillery Regiment (HiMARS), 18th Field Artillery Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps, fire simultaneously at Fort Bragg. Photo: U.S. Army/Sgt. Steven M. Colvin

The first of the HIMARS platforms arrived in late June and were quickly deployed to the frontlines, where it was seen to be a force multiplier for Ukraine in its war with Russia. The Lockheed Martin MRL has been seen as playing a crucial role in Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which began in the late summer.

launching rockets from himars
U.S. Marines with the 2d Marine Division fire a M142 HIMARS during Exercise Rolling Thunder 22-2 on Camp Lejeune. Photo: U.S.M.C./Lance Cpl. Megan Ozaki

There were even reports that in the very first strike on a Russian base in Izyum more than 40 soldiers were killed, while the weapon has been used to target multiple Russian command posts, ammunition storage depots, and concentrations of troops and armored vehicles. In addition, the HIMARS has been used to destroy multiple bridges, slowing Russian advances.

pair of himars launching
M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System vehicles with 181st Field Artillery Regiment, Tennessee Army National Guard execute a fire mission in Poland. Photo: U.S. Army/Markus Rauchenberger

A second batch was delivered in July, and as of September, a total of 16 HIMARS have been sent to Ukraine — while the Pentagon has pledged to supply an additional 18, yet, those won’t likely arrive until next year. Moscow has voiced numerous objections over Washington’s decision to supply Kyiv with the weapons — claiming NATO is fighting a proxy war.

rocket launch from himars
U.S. Marines with 10th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, fire a reduced-range practice rocket from a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Photo: U.S.M.C./Lance Cpl. Megan Ozaki

Russian air defenses have been largely seen as ineffective against saturated HIMARS attacks, which has proven vastly superior to the Russian Uragan 220mm MLR system.

HIMARS Decoys

In fact, the HIMARS has been seen as so successful that the launchers are now high-value targets, and Russian forces have gone to great lengths to destroy them. In fact, in late August, The Washington Post reported that the Ukrainian military have placed decoy HIMARS units near the front lines to fool the Russians.

himars in the field
The M142 HIMARS is designed to be agile and lethal. Because of this, they are high-value targets. Photo: U.S.M.C./Cpl. Diana Jimenez

Made of wood and covered in canvas — a tactic not all that different from fake vehicles that were constructed during the Second World War in North Africa and used to create a fictional U.S. Army in southeastern England prior to D-Day — the faux HIMARS have been quite the success. The paper of record reported that at least 10 Russian 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles were expended against the decoys, and apparently even convinced the Kremlin it had been successful in destroying one.

himars on the move
Soldiers assigned to the 113th Field Artillery Regiment return from a M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System live fire training exercise. Photo: U.S Army/Sgt. Hannah Tarkelly

However, it is believed not a single HIMARS has been lost in Ukraine.

Japan & HIMARS

Beyond the fact that Russian forces have literally come under fire from the HIMARS in Ukraine, Moscow also protested in October to the Japanese embassy over a recent Japan-U.S. military exercise, during which the system was fired close to Russia’s borders.

himars firing toward russia during us japan military exercise
U.S. Marines fire rockets from an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during exercise Resolute Dragon 22 at Yausubetsu Maneuver Area, Hokkaido, Japan, Oct. 14, 2022.Photo: U.S.M.C./Cpl. Diana Jimenez

Tensions between Tokyo and Moscow have increased after Japan joined Western countries in imposing sanctions on Russia in response to the February invasion of Ukraine. The two nations also remain at odds over the disputed Kuril Island chain, which Russia has continued to “militarize” in recent months, while each nation has accused the other of espionage. No doubt the firing of the HIMARS during the recent exercise was meant to send a message, and clearly Moscow heard it loud and clear — just as it is hearing the HIMARS in Ukraine.

transporting m142 in c-17 plane
The C-17 Globemaster III can transport M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems two abreast. Photo: U.S.A.F./Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver

M142 HIMARS Specifications

  • Empty weight: 29,800 pounds
  • Combat loaded weight: 35,800 pounds
  • Max speed: 94 km per hour
  • Max cruising range: 483 km
  • Ordnance options: All current and future MLRS rockets and current ATACMS missiles

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Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based freelance writer who regularly covers military history and hardware for The National Interest and FoxNews. He has collected military small arms and headgear since he was 12 years old. His most recent book A Gallery of Military Headdress was released last year and is available from Amazon.com here.

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