Ukraine Situation Report: Decoy HIMARS Launchers Entice Russian Missile Strikes

Russia has repeatedly fired costly cruise missiles at Ukraine’s worthless wooden artillery launchers made up to mimic HIMARS.

byDan Parsons|
HIMARS for Decoy story
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Sechser


Ukraine has fielded a fleet of fake High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, to trick Russia into firing its precious long-range missiles at worthless decoys. 

The wooden dummy HIMARS launchers mimic the U.S. donated precision rocket artillery systems that Ukraine has used to mercilessly hammer high-value Russian targets in recent weeks, U.S. and Ukrainian officials recently told The Washington Post.

Those decoys draw Russian attention and fire away from the 16 HIMARS systems currently on the frontlines in Ukraine. The Post reported that the dummy launchers attracted at least 10 Russian Kalibr cruise missiles when first deployed, sparking the construction of more fake launchers while the real ones continued to rain fire on Russian positions in the east and south. 

Russian forces typically use unmanned aerial systems to locate and identify targets for massed artillery barrages and even some precision missile strikes. HIMARS, which provide Ukrainian troops with precision strike capability at up to 43 miles, have become top targets for Russian forces.

A decent decoy, situated and camouflaged as an actual HIMARS would be deployed, is almost indistinguishable from the real thing to Russian targeting drones and satellites that provide information to Russian warships carrying cruise missiles in the Black Sea, the Post reported. 

Even if there is a chance it was a decoy, the target would be too valuable for Russian forces to pass up, given the punishment they have taken from HIMARS and the M31 guided rockets they fire. Ukraine also has several tracked M270 launchers that can fire the same artillery rockets but are less agile than wheeled HIMARS trucks.

“When the UAVs see the battery, it’s like a VIP target,” a senior Ukrainian official told the Washington Post.

Russia is no stranger to decoy weaponry and other deceptive tactics it collectively calls “maskirovka.” Russian forces have in the past augmented S-300 surface-to-air (SAM) batteries with inflatable ones.

In the below video interview with a Russian military officer during an exercise in 2018, the S-300 system in the background waves in the wind like a whacky-armed mascot at a used car lot. 

There is a long history of similar deceptive tactics in warfare, perhaps culminating in the made-up Ghost Army established to dupe Nazi Germany during World War II. An entire legion of artists, magicians, and tricksters was raised for the effort that included inflatable tanks, trucks and airplanes along with fake unit patches and false radio transmissions, as detailed in this Task & Purpose piece.

Decoys can be effective at both wearing down enemy ammunition stocks and drawing enemy fire away from real-life systems. When fired upon, dummy launchers have the added benefit of forcing Russian batteries to reveal their locations, thereby inviting return counterbattery fire. 

As a return on investment, knocking together a fleet of wooden HIMARS launchers might well be the best bang for the buck Ukraine has yet gotten in this war, except for the actual bang it gets from every donated GMLRS round.

Those weapons are pulling extra duty in Ukraine’s apparently ongoing offensive in the south around Kherson. Before we get into today’s details, take a minute to catch up on yesterday’s rolling coverage of the war here

The Latest

Ukraine is still trying to knock out Russia’s ability to transfer military personnel and equipment over the Dnipro River. HIMARS attacks on the Antonovsky Bridge, which has been unpassible to vehicle traffic for more than a week, continued on Aug. 30. As seen in the below video, there were noticeable explosions near the bridge in broad daylight and after dark, though the target could have been portions of a pontoon bridge they are attempting to build.

Ukrainian long-range artillery also hit a Russian ammunition dump in Tavriis'k in the Kherson region, setting it ablaze. Ukraine Army forces are pressing southward toward Kherson in the latest counterattack that officials said was launched on Monday.

Several brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces began pelting Russian frontline units with artillery across southern Ukraine on Aug. 29, the U.S. Ministry of Defense suggests in its latest public intelligence assessment of the war. Russia has tried to reinforce units stationed in and around Kherson, on the northern bank of the Dnipro, but they “are likely under-manned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro,” the U.K. MoD said. 

In a recent video, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears less than thrilled with the report from National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov. The commander delivered a situation report on the Rosgvardiya’s performance during the invasion at Putin’s now-notorious tiny desk at which he has taken less-than-stellar accounts from other senior military leaders.

More bad news for Russia, as it fields hundreds of drones it is thought to have bought from Iran for use in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence officials believe that some of the Mohajer-6 and Shahed unmanned aerial systems Tehran sold Moscow malfunctioned when first fielded, Biden administration officials told the Associated Press. Still, it is very on in their fielding and a rush to the front lines invites risk. For details on why Russia fielding Iranian drones could change the state of play in Ukraine, check out this War Zone explainer

Meanwhile, military support for Ukraine continues to flow in from its European neighbors. Lithuania has now donated or promised a total €153 million, according to Minister of National Defense Arvydas Anušauskas. The most recent batch of security support included thermal imaging sensors and counter-drone technologies, he said. 

Ukraine’s military has such an appetite for artillery ammunition that it is finding it in unusual places. Its sources now apparently include Pakistan. At least, some Ukrainian forces were recently seen unboxing 122mm high-explosive rounds made in that country by Pakistani Ordnance Factories (POF). It is quite probable that these are actually being transferred through a NATO ally from Pakistan to Ukraine.

Bloomberg reports that the European Union is nearing agreement on a comprehensive training mission for Ukrainian troops. Which country will host the effort is still being decided but Belgium, Slovakia, and others have volunteered.

Another six ships carrying Ukrainian grain left Black Sea ports on Aug. 30. The ships, named Seajoy, Lady Zehma, Saffet Aga, Simas, Michallis, and Kateria departed the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdenny can be tracked on commercial shipping trackers. The shipments show that an international agreement to reopen Ukrainian ports and allow the shipment of blockaded grain to world markets is working. 

The war in Ukraine has been waged online as it has on the battlefield, with armies of trolls fighting meme wars. Ukraine and/or Western sympathizers of the nation’s plight have a decided advantage in this online pictorial combat. Ukraine’s very Ministry of Defense now regularly posts snarky images and videos taunting Russian invasion forces with nightmare images of HIMARS and jokes about their imminent deaths. 

Now Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov joins the meme war by adopting a “fella” persona on Twitter. The so-called North Atlantic Fellas Organization, or NAFO — an obvious play on NATO — is a virtual army of Western military veterans and other online Ukraine supporters who have adopted Shiba Inu dog avatars online to daily go head-to-head with pro-Russian propagandists and disinformation.

On Aug. 30, Reznikov saluted NAFO and changed his Twitter profile picture to a Shiba Inu wearing his trademark wire-rim glasses and holding a miniature HIMARS launcher.

We will continue to update this post until we state otherwise.

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