The HIMARS have been at the top of Ukraine’s wish list, even more so than the fighter jets they were calling for in the beginning of the war. That’s because, as Rita Konaev, deputy director of analysis at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, told Vox, the battlefield has changed dramatically as Russia shifted and reorganized its assets to fight in the Donbas region. That means a move away from urban environments, where poor planning on Russia’s part weakened its offensive, and Ukrainian troops familiar with the territory had the advantage.
“It’s increasingly clear that no one side is winning the war,” Konaev said. This is as opposed to the fast-moving initial weeks of the invasion, when outsiders were thrilled at the idea of the scrappy Ukrainian forces dealing blow after surprising blow to the bigger, better-kitted Russian forces. The fight for the Donbas has become “a war of a mile a day,” she said, a back-and-forth battle over territory more like World War I than the fast-paced campaigns of February and March.
“That phase of the war is over,” Konaev said. “This phase is more grinding, piecemeal.” Because of the radical shift in the nature of the battlefield, the weapons on offer have to change dramatically, too.
“I think the impetus for sending the HIMARS is twofold,” she told Vox. First, she said, the new weapons systems provide “greater standoff capabilities” — the ability to keep battlefield distance between two forces — about double that of the howitzer. Second, HIMARS represent “a massive upgrade in firepower,” she told Vox, adding that when used strategically, the “impact is similar to airstrike lethality.”
The Russian military has its own MLRS, but as John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies with the Madison Policy Forum and author of Connected Soldiers, told Vox, “our weapons are farther reaching, more accurate” than the Soviet-designed systems.
But as of now — without the advanced weapons systems the US has promised Ukraine — Russia has some clear battlefield advantages, Konaev said.
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