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Why Ukraine getting one more HIMARS matters

Nov 22, 2023

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You can always tell when soldiers in Ukraine really like weapons systems, because they usually write a song about them. There’s at least one song about Bayraktar drones, and a little ditty dropped in the summer of 2022, praising the U.S.-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Based on the most recent U.S. aid package to Ukraine, it might be time for a remix.

On Nov. 20, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Ukraine. Austin used the opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the Ukrainian war effort and announce a $100 million aid package including more TOW and Stinger missiles, some winter gear and precisely one HIMARS launcher with additional ammunition.

Austin told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “The message that I bring you today, Mr. President, is that the United States of America is with you. We will remain with you for the long haul.”

Ukraine already has 38 HIMARS systems, as well as 23 M270 tracked launchers that fire the same ammo.

According to some analysts, the one new launcher may have been modified to shoot a type of munition first promised to Ukraine back in February: The Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB).

The product of partnership between Saab and Boeing, GLSDBs combine air-dropped glide bombs with ground-launched rocket boosters. The result is essentially a precision-guided bomb that militaries can launch from the ground, closing a capability gap an air force would usually fill.

Most traditional artillery and many guided rockets take typical ballistic paths. If a target is on the other side of a hill or building, it can be difficult to hit with ground launched weapons. The GLSDBs give commanders the ability to hit targets on the back side of hills and buildings, what’s known as the “reverse slope.”

Using its glide wings, GLSDBs can hit the reverse slope on a target around 100 miles away. It can fly in any weather condition, day or night, and its multi-purpose warhead comes with a programmable fuse. So, the warhead can be flown deeper into a building, cave or other fortified structure before fully detonating.

In February, when President Joe Biden originally said the U.S. would send GLSDBs to Ukraine, he did caution it would take months for the weapons to reach the frontlines. Boeing said in early October it was on track to deliver the weapons according to the government’s timeline.

If Ukraine now has its hands on the GLSDBs and a launcher that can fire them, it shouldn’t take too long to modify its other launchers to do the same. The ability to shoot bombs that can go backwards should give Ukraine’s commanders on the ground more flexibility while also letting the country’s small air force focus on targets better suited for air-launched missiles.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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ROBERTSON: YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL WHEN UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS REALLY LIKE WEAPONS SYSTEMS, BECAUSE THEY USUALLY WRITE A SONG ABOUT THEM.

THIS LITTLE DIDDY DROPPED IN THE SUMMER OF 2022. THE SONG PRAISES THE U.S.-MADE M142 HIGH MOBILITY ARTILLERY ROCKET SYSTEM, OR HIMARS. BASED ON THE MOST RECENT US-AID PACKAGE TO UKRAINE, IT MIGHT BE TIME FOR A REMIX.

ON NOVEMBER 20, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN MADE AN UNANNOUNCED TRIP TO UKRAINE. AUSTIN USED THE OPPORTUNITY TO REAFFIRM THE UNITED STATES’ COMMITMENT TO THE UKRAINIAN WAR EFFORT AND ANNOUNCE A $100 MILLION AID PACKAGE THAT INCLUDED MORE TOW AND STINGER MISSILES, SOME WINTER GEAR AND PRECISELY ONE HIMARS LAUNCHER WITH ADDITIONAL AMMUNITION.

SO, WHY WOULD THE US SEND JUST ONE HIMARS SYSTEM WHEN UKRAINE ALREADY HAS 38? NOT TO MENTION THE OTHER 23 M270 TRACKED LAUNCHERS THAT FIRE THE SAME AMMO?

ACCORDING TO SOME ANALYSTS, IT COULD BE THAT ONE LAUNCHER WAS MODIFIED TO SHOOT A TYPE OF MUNITION FIRST PROMISED TO UKRAINE BACK IN FEBRUARY: THE GROUND LAUNCHED SMALL DIAMETER BOMB OR GLSDB.

THE PRODUCT OF A JOINT PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN SAAB AND BOEING, GLSDBs COMBINE AIR-DROPPED GLIDE BOMBS WITH ROCKET BOOSTERS. THE RESULT IS ESSENTIALLY A PRECISION-GUIDED BOMB THAT MILITARIES CAN LAUNCH FROM THE GROUND; CLOSING A CAPABILITY GAP AN AIR FORCE WOULD USUALLY FILL.

MOST TRADITIONAL ARTILLERY AND EVEN MANY GUIDED ROCKETS TAKE TYPICAL BALLISTIC PATHS. SO, IF YOUR TARGET IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF A HILL OR BUILDING IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO HIT WITH GROUND LAUNCHED WEAPONS.

THE SDBs GIVE COMMANDERS THE ABILITY TO HIT TARGETS ON THE BACK SIDE OF HILLS AND BUILDINGS, WHAT’S KNOWN AS THE ‘REVERSE SLOPE.’

USING ITS GLIDE WINGS, GLSDBs CAN HIT THE REVERSE SLOPE ON A TARGET AROUND 100 MILES AWAY. IT CAN FLY IN ANY WEATHER CONDITION, DAY OR NIGHT, AND ITS MULTIPURPOSE WARHEAD COMES WITH A PROGRAMMABLE FUSE. SO, THE WARHEAD CAN BE FLOWN DEEPER INTO A BUILDING, CAVE OR OTHER FORTIFIED STRUCTURE BEFORE FULLY DETONATING.

IN FEBRUARY, WHEN PRESIDENT BIDEN ORIGINALLY SAID THE US WOULD SEND GLSDBs TO UKRAINE, HE DID CAUTION IT WOULD TAKE MONTHS FOR THE WEAPONS TO REACH THE FRONTLINES. BOEING SAID IN EARLY OCTOBER IT WAS ON TRACK TO DELIVER THE WEAPONS ACCORDING TO THE GOVERNMENT’S TIMELINE.

IF UKRAINE NOW HAS ITS HANDS ON THE GLSDBs AND A LAUNCHER THAT CAN FIRE THEM IT SHOULDN’T TAKE TOO LONG TO MODIFY ITS OTHER LAUNCHERS TO DO THE SAME. THE ABILITY TO SHOOT BOMBS THAT CAN GO BACKWARDS SHOULD GIVE UKRAINE’S COMMANDERS ON THE GROUND MORE FLEXIBILITY WHILE ALSO LETTING THE COUNTRY’S SMALL AIR FORCE FOCUS ON TARGETS BETTER SUITED FOR AIR-LAUNCHED MISSILES.

OF COURSE, WE MAY NOT KNOW THE TRUE IMPACT OF GLSDBs UNTIL THERE’S A SONG ABOUT THEM.