Ukraine inching closer to getting ATACMS missiles, Can it Change the Course of the War?

Because of its vintage, the ATACMS is a typical target for all Russian anti-aircraft missile systems with medium and long ranges.

Must Read

Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

There have been allegations in the media that the United States may give Ukraine the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), but the Pentagon has disputed these reports.

However, the WSJ allegations that the US is close to authorising the ATACMS appear credible. They have authorities from the United States and Europe to quote stating this.

ATACMS has a range of approximately 300 kilometres, allowing Ukrainian forces to engage Russian targets located well behind the front lines. The transfer was met with President Biden’s veto because authorities in the US believed that Ukraine could use the weapons it received to launch an attack on Russian territory and intensify the crisis by drawing the West into the fight.  

According to officials quoted by the US media, the matter is being considered at the highest level. US and European officials have observed that the White House, which previously resisted handing over responsibility, has concluded that Ukraine’s fight must be intensified in the coming weeks.

American objection to crossing the Russian Red Line is unfounded, as the United Kingdom has already supplied Storm Shadow, despite their poor performance. The last known use of Storm Shadow was to damage the asphalt on the roadway lanes of the Chongar bridges leading to Crimea.

The threat posed by ATACMS cannot be regarded lightly. The maximum range of ATACMS is 300 kilometres. This resulted from the limitations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In addition, there are international export restrictions on missile technology. Several regions of Russia, including Crimea, Voronezh, and others, would be vulnerable to prospective attacks if the Ukrainian military were to acquire such missiles today. The guidance system of the most advanced missiles of this type provides an accuracy of up to three metres. These characteristics are attained by combining a sophisticated inertial guidance system with satellite navigation data correction. The 227-kilogram warhead can target an area the size of a football stadium with a blast radius of about 20 metres. 

ATACMS. Images: US Army

On the other hand, it is not anticipated that Ukraine will get a substantial amount of ATACMS. On June 16, Paul Massaro, a policy advisor to the Helsinki Commission, revealed that a new defence budget item proposed to the US Congress includes $80 million for the purchase of ATACMS by the Ukrainian government. The legislation instructs the Secretary of Defence to brief Congress by December 31, 2023, regarding the acquisition and transfer of ATACMS to Ukraine. The question that needs to be answered is how many ATACMS Ukraine can purchase with $80 million.

The nine international buyers of ATACMS have only acquired small numbers of the missile, with Bahrain most likely being the lone buyer of roughly 140 units. No more than five countries hold more than one hundred of these units. The remaining nations have fewer units. Only 54 ATACMS can be purchased by Ukraine with its allocated budget of $80 million (1,476,000 USD per system). The launchers are already available in Ukraine. During the battle in Ukraine, the Western idea that precision munitions achieve better results than quantity was shown to be untrue. Although Russia has fired thousands of tactical missiles, Ukraine has not yet capitulated to the aggression. In the same vein, Ukraine is at a disadvantage compared to Russia because Russia possesses more precision missiles.

In addition, Americans can donate some of the over 3,000 ATACMS currently in stock. The number of ATACMS the allies can spare for Ukraine is already limited. More quantities are required. For instance, the US employed over 450 ATACMS during the Iraq War. The scale of the conflict is even bigger. 

Because of its vintage, the ATACMS is a typical target for all Russian anti-aircraft missile systems with medium and long ranges. When designing the S-400, S-500, S-350, and newer “Buks,” the capability to counter such missiles was built from the beginning of the design process. As a result, the Ukrainian-operated GMLRS used by the HIMARS systems has already been intercepted using these new systems. Ukraine will be able to use only small quantities. As a result, it will be difficult to hit Russian targets because those targets will be covered by the “umbrella” of current air defence systems.

As it did with JDAMS, Russia can use electronic warfare to thwart satellite navigation systems near critical targets. However, it is impossible to do so on a wide scale and in a continuous fashion. 

ATACMS has existed longer than Iskander missiles, yet they offer similar technological solutions. Defences against ATACMS attacks have many of the same challenges as those against Iskander attacks.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This