HIMARS rockets have been a 'game changer' in Ukraine, and the US Army is now looking for ways to build up to 500 more

·4 min read
M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)
A US-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert
  • US-made High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems have helped Ukraine turn the tide against Russia.

  • The success of HIMARS is likely to raise demand for the weapon — Taiwan already wants to buy more.

  • Now the US Army is looking for companies that can build up to 100 HIMARS launchers a year.

The US Army is looking for companies that can build up to 100 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers a year.

The Army's formal request for information comes as Ukraine uses its new US-supplied M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to conduct devastating strikes against Russian forces.

What's interesting is that the Army lays out a five-year schedule that calls for almost 500 new HIMARS, which are currently built by Lockheed Martin. From the 2024 to 2028 fiscal years, the Army is contemplating a minimum of 24 new launchers a year and a maximum of 96, totaling 120 to 480 over five years.

"The total quantities for HIMARS include all potential variants," the Army said. "Additional supporting efforts include, but are not limited to: recurring production, obsolescence, engineering changes, system engineering and program management (SEPM), integrated logistics support (ILS), spares, New Equipment Training, and other support equipment."

Whether those new HIMARS are actually built depends on funding, congressional politics, and changes in the international situation and military technology. "The information provided may be used by the Army in developing its acquisition strategy," noted Redstone Arsenal, which issued the request for information.

High Mobility Artillery Rocket System HIMARS Sweden Gotland
A Wisconsin Army National Guard HIMARS on Sweden's Gotland Island in October 2021.US Army/Sgt. Patrik Orcutt

Adding 480 new launchers would almost double the world's supply of HIMARS.

The US Army has 363 and the Marine Corps another 47. The Army said in 2021 — before Russia attacked Ukraine — that it would seek to increase its force to 547 HIMARS. Romania has 18 HIMARS and US approval to purchase up to 54. Singapore has 18 launchers and Jordan 12.

Next to Ukraine, perhaps the most notable buyer would be Taiwan, which now plans to order 29 HIMARS.

Taiwan originally planned to order just 11 HIMARS along with 40 M109A6 Paladin self-propelled 155 mm howitzers, but it now wants to cancel the Paladin order in favor of more HIMARS, which have a longer firing range. Taiwan's army believes HIMARS would more effective in countering an amphibious landing.

Indeed, given the publicity HIMARS has in the Ukraine war — where the weapon has been called "a game changer" — its cachet alone will probably increase sales.

Related video: Russia deploys rocket launchers in latest military drills

The HIMARS is designed to be a lightweight truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher, alongside the heavier, armored M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System. While HIMARS can fire the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, Ukraine's vehicles are armed with a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System pod, which can shoot six GPS-guided rockets out to 50 miles.

Ukraine has used HIMARS for pinpoint strikes to destroy Russian targets such as ammunition dumps, command posts, and even bridges.

A Ukrainian solider shows the rockets on a HIMARS vehicle between some trees
A Ukrainian unit commander showing the rockets on a HIMARS vehicle in eastern Ukraine in July.Anastasia Vlasova for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The long reach of HIMARS is particularly appreciated by Ukrainian forces. When Russia launched its attack in February, the Soviet-era artillery used by Ukraine's military was outranged by newer Russian weapons such as the BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher, which has a firing range of 45 miles.

This enabled Russian artillery to destroy Ukrainian guns while remaining safely out of range of counterfire. Because HIMARS is truck-mounted, it can also employ shoot-and-scoot tactics to quickly relocate after firing.

But ramping up production of HIMARS wouldn't be easy. COVID-19 and other supply-chain woes have created procurement backlogs across the civilian and military worlds. In the best of times, boosting manufacturing capacity for weapons is difficult — even expanding production lines for old-fashioned, unguided 155 mm howitzer shells can take more than a year.

Manufacturers may be reluctant to invest for fear that changes in Pentagon priorities and congressional funding will stick them with unused capacity. Exports of HIMARS and other weapons to other nations are also hostage to an ever-fluid global politics and the US's byzantine Foreign Military Sales process.

Nonetheless, HIMARS appears likely to become a desired weapon. Given sufficient demand, the US defense industry will build more.

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master's in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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