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Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Too Little For The Turn

Now promised weapons systems will improve the situation for Ukraine. But don't expect too much, the war could go on for a long time.

The pickup is parked on a dirt road somewhere in Ukraine. Soldiers have installed a rocket launcher on the loading area, which they dismantled from a crashed Russian Kamov Ka-52 combat helicopter. The improvised rocket launcher fires six projectiles. Whether and what they hit cannot be seen in the video published by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense on Twitter . "Many thanks to the volunteers for the Mitsubishi L200," writes the ministry. "But we are still waiting for HIMARS and M270!"

These Western-made multiple rocket launchers are designed to enable Ukraine to repel the Russian army's ongoing artillery attacks. The US has already delivered four HIMARS to Ukraine, this has been confirmed by Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine's Defense Minister. He thanked his US colleague Lloyd J. Austin for "these powerful tools", of which the US has promised four more. The three M270s promised by Britain are not yet in Ukraine, and when Germany will deliver three Mars IIs based on M270 technology is unknown. What is certain, however, is that Ukraine will soon have more modern multiple rocket launchers.

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This makes the Ukrainian army optimistic. "Summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers," says Defense Minister Resnikov. "And the last for some of them." The government hopes that the multiple rocket launchers with a range of up to 80 kilometers will change the war. After all, the launcher fires about twice as far as the M777 howitzers also supplied by the USA to Ukraine. The first HIMARS have already been sighted at the front, as shown by recordings on Twitter. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also released a video ; the supreme commander of the armed forces, General Valeriy Zalushnyi, wrote: "These weapons are in good hands, dear Americans!"

No attacks on Russian territory

HIMARS stands for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, developed in the late 1990s by BAE Systems from Great Britain and Lockheed Martin from the USA and has been in use by the US armed forces since 2005. Just over 400 of these systems have been produced to date. They are relatively light and can be deployed by a C-130 transport aircraft. Six missiles make up one charge. In use, the system itself quickly changes position when the launcher has fired. Its exact position is difficult to determine.

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The US brand differs significantly from the so-called Stalin organs and other systems from Soviet production such as the BM-21 or the BM-39. HIMARS fires precision projectiles. The rockets, of which there are several types, are mainly controlled by GPS satellite navigation. The Ukrainian armed forces should therefore not use the launchers for area fire, like the Soviet weapons: They can use them to attack supply depots or field airfields in a very targeted manner - and keep the enemy artillery at a distance. US President Joe Biden has opined in the New York Timesstated that the missiles will allow the Ukrainian army to hit "key targets". However, he also wrote that this should not enable Ukraine to attack Russian territory – the government in Kiev had to agree to this before receiving the weapons.

HIMARS not only enables the Ukrainian armed forces to attack far behind Russian lines, but is also relatively safe from counterattacks by enemy artillery due to its own range. Most Russian guns fire at a maximum range of 40 kilometers and have no guided missiles. Nevertheless, the Russian attackers have a significant advantage in terms of artillery, says Colonel Ralf Feldotto, head of the Department for Crisis Management and Threat Analysis at the Ministry of Defense, in the video series Inquired: "The balance of power is from six to one to ten to one." And so far, the range of the Ukrainian artillery is rather short, they can only fire about 18 kilometers, only half as far as the guns of their opponents, says the officer.

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To compensate for this disadvantage, the US has also asked the federal government to equip Ukraine with rocket launchers. Germany initially announced that it would deliver four systems, but the number was then reduced by one. "The next step is the Mars II multiple rocket launcher system," said Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht in the Bundestag. "The training on it will be able to start in June." It's about supporting Ukraine with artillery, "which is far-reaching but also very precise. That's what Ukraine asked for."

This multiple rocket launcher is similar to HIMARS, although not as modern. The medium artillery rocket system used by the Bundeswehr fires both GPS-guided precision ammunition and unguided projectiles for suppression fire. The Mars multiple rocket launcher was developed in the USA and introduced there as the M270. In Germany, the Bundeswehr has had the aging model modernized and is now calling it Mars II. The army has received 22 copies. In 2020, the Budget Committee of the Bundestag decided to also have another 18 stored first-generation turrets converted to the new variant. Ukraine is to receive the new variant.

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To what extent the German Mars II can help in the short term is questionable. The Bundeswehr does not have very many projectiles for the system. However, the US Army could probably supply some. "It's all about the ammunition and whether it fits together. These are technical issues that need to be clarified, as well as logistics and other issues," said a government spokesman before the federal press conference.

It is also unclear how long the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the system will take. And the weapon has caused problems in the past. In 2018, for example, the federal government stated in an answer to a small inquiry from the FDP: "Events that occur regularly can be observed in the medium artillery rocket system (Mars) in the area of ​​full-caliber ammunition. On the one hand, there is the so-called cover problem, in which the tube is covered by the shot gases by an outgoing missile. In the worst case, this could lead to damage to the missile in the launch tube." In addition, the measuring lines are regularly damaged. This means that the fire control system does not recognize a missile in the tube and therefore cannot fire it.

Don't set expectations too high

Even if these problems are eliminated, the number of multiple rocket launchers supplied and promised from the West remains small. The course of the war alone will hardly change the first delivered HIMARS and also later arriving M270 or Mars II.

Precise and long-range systems like the Panzerhaubitze 2000, seven of which arrived from Germany last week, and multiple rocket launchers could be advantageous for Ukraine, says Wolfgang Richter from the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin: "However, expectations of operational counter-offensives, for example to regain Donbass or even Crimea, because Russia still has large reserves of personnel and material that it can mobilize." This is how Putin could explain the general mobilization and then use conscripts and activated reservists. "Then a war of attrition would develop, which would result in further high losses, but probably no decisive gains in space," states military expert Richter.

Even if the new weapon systems improve the situation in Ukraine, the war is likely to continue for a long time.

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