Biden Administration Weighs Sending Longer-Range ATACMS Missiles to Ukraine

US may supply 300 km ATACMS Missiles to Ukraine as Conflict Escalates.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The authorities in the United States are currently trying to equip Ukraine with upgraded versions of ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) (ballistic missiles) that have a greater range than the missiles that were previously sent to Kyiv. 

After months of requests from Ukrainian officials, the administration of US President Joe Biden is working on delivering new powerful ballistic missiles to Ukraine. According to NBC News, which cites anonymous sources from the United States, the nation’s government is currently considering the possibility of delivering to Ukraine a new model of ATACMS missiles that have a larger range.

If the United States Congress decides to approve extra financing for Ukraine, it is possible that the United States would include the newly developed ATACMS missiles in one of the initial packages of military assistance that will be distributed this year. While everything is going on, the United States government is getting ready to supply Kyiv with artillery and ammunition.

There is a possibility that the US government could ask its partners to supply Ukraine with their missiles and also refill the stockpiles of anti-tank guided missile systems (ATGM) in Ukraine.

On the other hand, the Pentagon’s representatives indicated that the United States possesses a limited number of ATACMS missiles and that it is highly improbable that the missiles will be supplied to Ukraine without the ability to replace its arsenal.

As of October 2023, it was rumoured that the US government had provided Kyiv with long-range ATACMS missiles in an informal capacity. Alexey Goncharenko, a member of the Verkhovna Rada, reports that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have already received American long-range missiles known as ATACMS and have fired them during the shelling of Berdiansk in the Zaporizhzhya region. He posted the following on social media: “Well, ATACMS is already with us.” In addition to this, the Deputy mentioned that these projectiles were used in an attempt to attack Berdiansk specifically.

The prospect of an escalation of the conflict caused President Biden to delay supplying ATACMS for some time. On the other hand, in September 2023, he committed to providing Kyiv with a limited quantity of ATACMS missiles during a meeting with his counterpart in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

On October 17, the White House confirmed the transfer of ATACMS missiles with a range of 165 km to Kyiv. The White House National Security Council’s press service stated that this would improve Ukraine’s fighting capabilities, while the Pentagon could not confirm any additional missile delivery. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also confirmed the handover of these missiles.

According to The New York Times, which cited sources, the US transferred approximately twenty ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles to Ukraine. As a condition of the transfer, it was stipulated that the weapon would not be used to launch attacks against Russian territory. 

Earlier, officials in Washington claimed that they had no intention of supplying Kyiv with tactical ATACMS ballistic missiles because these missiles are scarce in the United States’ arsenal.

Expired ATACMS

According to a story that was published in January by Newsweek, the US government intends to dispose of hundreds of ATACMS launchers and rockets that were made by Lockheed Martin and have reached their expiration date. This will require a substantial amount of money from taxpayers.

Daniel Rice, a former special advisor to General Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, argued that these rockets are still “excellent high-precision cassette weapons” and might be given to Ukraine. He said that the expiration date wasn’t an issue. He emphasised that the M39 provides Ukraine with range, precision, and lethality that it does not have otherwise.

Although much depends on how long these rockets have been overdue, former Lieutenant General Ben Hodges believes they will still be useful for many years after this date. In his opinion, rejecting to transfer ATACMS due to expiration is a political decision rather than a security one.

White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby declined to confirm reports that the US plans to dispose of obsolete ATACMS missiles rather than transfer them to Ukraine.

More than 300 Km

For several months, Ukraine has been requesting that the US equip it with longer-range ATACMS missiles. These missiles would enable Ukraine to strike targets that are up to 300 kilometres (180 miles) away. These targets would include supply lines, trains, and command centres that are located behind the Russian front line.

The Pentagon has so far declined to divulge any details regarding the quantity of single-block ATACMS missiles in the nation’s inventory. The ATACMS missile system is being phased out in favour of the new long-range [PrSM] system.


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