Another four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and additional ammunition for those systems, plus 1,000 rounds of high-precision 155 mm howitzer ammunition are heading to Ukraine as part of a $400 million Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) allocation signed by President Joe Biden Friday.
The latest drawdown by the Biden administration marks its 15th PDA for Ukraine since August 2021 and a total of about $8 billion in security assistance for that nation.
This latest PDA will bring to 12 the number of HIMARS the U.S. will have sent to Ukraine, a senior U.S. official told reporters Friday morning. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that there were already eight of those systems operating in Ukraine now.
The official said that contrary to Russian claims, none have been damaged or destroyed.
“High-precision air-based missiles have destroyed 2 US-made HIMARS multiple-launch rocket launchers and 2 ammunition depots near Malotaranovka in Donetsk People's Republic,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said last week on its Telegram channel.
Ukraine officials had previously denied that and the U.S. defense official Friday confirmed that denial.
In addition to HIMARS, the U.S. will be sending 1,000 rounds of what the official said are 155 mm howitzer rounds that provide “greater precision” than standard shells for those systems.
“It offers Ukraine precise capability for specific targets,” the official said. “It will save ammunition. It will be more effective due to the precision.”
Ukraine still has "substantial stores" of standard 155 mm shells, the official said.
The official declined to answer repeated questions about whether the new high-precision rounds were the M982 Excalibur precision-guided 155mm artillery shell. The Excalibur, which the Army, as well as the U.S. Marines, have been using for more than a decade, is only capable of hitting stationary targets using its GPS-assisted inertial navigation system (INS) guidance package. The M982 has a maximum range of 20 miles.
“I can't get into details for operational reasons,” the official said.
Images posted online claim to show destruction of Russian ammo depots and other logistic support areas caused by the HIMARS Ukraine already has. Other than to say they’ve been used in the Donbas, the official declined to give specific details.
“We don't want to help the Russians do their battle damage assessment or anything like that,” the official said. “These are locations behind the frontlines of where the Russian forces are concentrated, where you see every day the battles going on - [command and control] logistics nodes.”
When asked why it’s taken so long for the U.S. to supply HIMARS, and why they are only being shipped out four at a time, the official explained that it takes time to train Ukrainian troops who have only previously used former Soviet Union long-range fires.
Learning how to use the HIMARS “is a weeks-long training process where Ukrainian crews needed to be trained on these systems that were new to them, because it's not a Soviet legacy system,” the official said. “The sort of limiting factor was having trained crews and we have been training successive sets of crews to be ready to staff the use of the sets of four HIMARS systems at a time as the crews were ready to be able to use them effectively.”
After a visit to Kyiv along with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to see Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) said he supports providing Ukraine with, among other things, longer-range HIMARS rounds on the condition that Ukraine did not use these to attack Russian territory, according to Reuters.
Biden has so far declined to give Ukraine those longer-range HIMARS munitions, with a range of up to 190 miles, over worries that Ukraine would use them to strike deep into Russia. The U.S. Army currently fields such a round, called the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) You can read more about that system here.
When asked about preclusions against Ukraine using the existing HIMARS systems, the senior U.S. official told reporters Friday morning that any targets inside Ukraine, including territories now occupied by Russia, are fair game.
With so much weaponry heading from the U.S. to Ukraine, concerns have been raised about whether the Pentagon is tracking the billions of dollars worth of arms it has sent.
“We absolutely track them from the time we send the capabilities to Ukraine, deliver them to Ukraine [and] they move into the battlefield,” the official said. “Our military leaders and experts and professionals are in communication with the Ukrainians to understand how they're employing those capabilities, what their usage rate is, what their strategy is.”
The goal, according to the official, is not just to make sure the weapons are not falling into the wrong hand, but also to gauge what Ukraine needs.
“It's a really important element of deciding what goes into our next assistance package is to understand how they're employing them. We are tracking that very carefully and we are very mindful of our duties and obligations to maintain awareness of the capabilities we're providing.”
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