Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Tuesday that Ukraine had launched Army Tactical Missile Systems (M39 ATACMS) Block I at Russian forces. VOA reported that this action was made possible after the United States covertly provided a limited number of long-range ballistic missiles to Ukraine in recent days. Zelenskyy stated that these actions are in line with the agreements made with President Joe Biden, and he emphasized the effectiveness of ATACMS in achieving their objectives. ATACMS, developed by U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin, enables Ukrainian forces to reach deeper into Russian-controlled territory, allowing them to strike surface targets from a safer distance rather than being exposed on the front lines. ATACMS offers Ukraine greater flexibility in its attacks, especially in contested airspace, and the latest versions of ATACMS are significantly faster than other missiles in use.
These developments mark a shift in the Biden administration’s stance on providing advanced weaponry to Ukraine. Initially, the U.S. had withheld approval for requests for American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, HIMARS, and F-16 fighter jets but later approved their supply. The Armed Forces of Ukraine operates an unknown quantity of the M39 ATACMS Block I. These were used in combat for the first time on 17 October 2023.Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that the U.S. would co-lead a coalition to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, although it would take several months before they would be operationally ready. Ukraine has intensified its campaign of missile and drone strikes deep into Russian-controlled territory, particularly targeting the occupied Crimean Peninsula. However, despite these efforts, Ukrainian forces have yet to achieve a decisive breakthrough, leading to concerns about the future of international support as winter approaches.
The MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is a tactical ballistic missile manufactured by the US defense company Lockheed Martin. It uses solid propellant, is 13 feet (4.0 m) high and 24 inches (610 mm) in diameter, and the longest range variants can fly up to 190 miles (300 km). The missiles can be fired from the tracked M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the wheeled M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). An ATACMS launch container has a lid patterned with six circles like a standard MLRS rocket lid, but contains only one missile – the identical pattern makes it more challenging for enemy intelligence to single it out as a high-value target. ATACMS can be integrated into the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) already in Ukraine’s arsenal, expanding their military capabilities. The U.S. had previously provided only Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rockets for this system, which have a range of approximately 90 kilometers (60 miles).
President Biden had previously informed President Zelenskyy of the U.S.’s intention to send a limited number of ATACMS missiles to Ukraine in the coming weeks. This support complements the assistance provided by the United Kingdom earlier in the year when they supplied Ukraine with Storm Shadow missiles, which are air-launched and have a maximum range of about 250 kilometers. Additionally, this news follows the recent provision of up to $200 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, including air defense weapons and artillery munitions. The U.S. has provided substantial security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, totaling approximately $44 billion. Despite an error in estimating the cost of previous aid packages, the Pentagon still has around $5 billion of congressionally approved funding for Ukrainian military aid. The distribution of new aid for Ukraine may depend on the selection of a new House Speaker, following the removal of Kevin McCarthy from the position.