Ukraine faces major artillery imbalance despite MLRS donations
The UK intends to supply Ukraine with M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs) to Ukraine along with M31A1 rockets ‘at scale’, according to a 6 June announcement by the MoD.
The MoD did not specify how many launchers would be provided, but the BBC reported that three would be provided initially. They will join the four M142 HIMARS launchers previously provided by the US.
Ukraine has requested longer-range rocket systems to help it counter the Russian predominance in artillery. In certain areas of the Donbas region, it appears that Russia has been able to concentrate its artillery forces to focus on the goal of capturing Severodonetsk. This means that Ukrainian units are subjected to prolonged and intense bombardments that present challenges to counter-battery engagements.
The Ukrainian predicament is worsened by Russian strength in long-range rocket artillery, which is typically around a third of all artillery present.
Ukraine also needs MLRS and HIMARS launchers because of the shape of the battlefield in Ukraine. Russian forces are positioned around a salient that has Severodonetsk at its heart and there is a significant Russian presence around Izyum, according to the latest updates released by MoD Defence Intelligence.
This means that Russian artillery can engage Ukrainian supplies and the forces fighting in the salient from almost any direction — and Ukrainian artillery is unable to return fire on an equal footing.
The provision of MLRS and HIMARS will help to address this, whilst also putting Ukrainian forces in a position to begin engaging Russian supply lines. However, the small quantity provided – unless dramatically expanded – is unlikely to tilt the balance of the fighting in Ukraine’s favour.
Another consideration is production capacity. The West has provided significant reserves of important weapon systems to Ukraine, and the rate of use there suggests that more capacity might be needed to support the Ukrainian war effort.
The promise to supply M31A1 rockets at scale is important, providing that it is matched with an effort to replenish war stocks and reserves in the UK, where an MLRS launcher overhaul effort is underway with new missiles to follow, beginning in 2024.
This is connected to a DoD contract announcement on 9 June that Lockheed Martin will supply the UK with reconfigured M270A2 MLRS launchers in a four-year, $32.98 million FMS deal.
The British Army aims to maintain its MLRS equipment in service until 2050.
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