Ukraine has asked the United States for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a long-range surface-to-surface missile fired by the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, for months. Although truck-mounted launchers have been essential for Ukraine, the U.S. has withheld longer-range missiles allowing Ukraine to strike Russian locations nearly 200 miles (about 320 km) distant, out of concern that doing so would exacerbate the conflict.
According to the U.S., the Ukrainians also have access to long-range unmanned aerial vehicles, Joint Direct Attack Munition kits that convert air-to-surface bombs into precision weapons, and thousands of 50-mile-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, which they have fired from HIMARS.
This has prompted Ukraine to relook at its Vilkha-M missile system. The indigenous Vilkha-M (Alder-M) missile is a guided artillery missile with a longer range and larger warhead.
By 2019, Ukraine had already produced and tested MRLS-fired long-range guided missiles.
The Vilkha-M is a 7.6-meter-long (25-foot-long) upgraded BM-30 Smerch artillery missile. Notably, Vilkha-M has a range of 110 kilometres (68 miles) with a 300mm warhead weighing 485 pounds (about 220 kilogrammes), and Ukraine claims that it can strike targets with excellent precision. The weapon was developed in 2016 by the state owned Kyivskoe Konstruktorskoe Bureau Luch.
In 2020, the Ukrainian Army announced on Facebook that it was thoroughly testing the technology.
The initial fire tests occurred in March 2016. Installation and activation of the Vilkha missile system’s missile body production line at the Artem facility in Kyiv began in November 2017. Specifically, a CNC rolling machine RFFM 330-138-300 from the Turkish business Repkon, developed to manufacture high-precision components, was installed, as per Deputy General Director of Ukroboronprom, Mustafa Nayem, who posted it on social media in 2020.
In April 2020, the director of the Pavlograd chemical plant, Leonid Shiman, stated that the Ukrainian Vilkha-M multiple rocket launcher might attack Russia if the aggressor nation launches an offensive. About the Vilkha-M system, Shiman asserted that Ukraine currently possesses a single formidable weapon for which production has been created. He said the first batch was produced based on an order placed in 2019. Speaking to Ukrainian media ‘Censor’, he said, “Putin will think for a long time whether he should attack Ukraine again and shell our cities, as the Russians did in 2014-15, knowing that retaliatory strikes by Alder could also be delivered against their critical infrastructure facilities, like the same Kamensky.”
In his statement, he mentioned the analogous Russian complex “Kamensky,” which is located near the Ukrainian border in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov region.
Comparatively, the GMLRS ammo used by the M142 or HIMARS highly mobile artillery rocket systems and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) delivered to Ukraine has a maximum range of roughly 80 kilometres (nearly 50 miles) with a 227 mm, 200 pounds (90 kilogrammes) warhead.
The War Zone cites Ivan Vinnik, First Deputy Chief of the National Organization of the Ukrainian Military-Industrial Complex, saying that Vilkha-M has already been utilised in combat. However, he did not specify the precise application of this complex’s missiles. According to him, their first combat usage occurred in May 2022.
The Vilkha-M’s precision is boosted by so-called “gas rudders” – dozens of microscopic holes that discharge fuel and are used to steer the missile to its target using GPS. Although the Vilkha-M is regarded as extremely precise and highly accurate ammunition, its accuracy details are yet to be released, says Vinnik.
Even though these missiles are available in small quantities, they provide Ukraine with ammunition that reaches 36% more range with more than twice the payload of the GMLRS available to its forces.
Modification of up to 150 kilometres
According to Vinnik, the Vilkha-M modification programme began in 2018, and approximately 100 units were manufactured. In addition, it is intended to enhance the range of Vilkha-M to 150 km (about 93 miles). He did not elaborate on this. He expects it will be ready in time for the counter-offensive. He said the latest variations would not be tested for combat use and that the tests would be conducted on the battlefield.
The extended-range Vilkha-M will have roughly the same range as the Small Diameter Ground Bomb (GLSDB) that the U.S. recently authorised for use in Ukraine, but with a significantly larger warhead and significantly more kinetic power.
He explains that this would be particularly beneficial against targets such as bridges, huge structures, and heavy defences, which are unsuitable for GLSDB and GMLRS.
But, even with a range of 93 miles, the new Vilkha-M type will still have less than half the range of ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, which can strike targets 200 miles away (over 300 km). But, the United States currently refuses to supply them to Ukraine, said Vinnik.