‘Finally,’ says Russia, claiming to have destroyed two M142s

The Russian Ministry of Defense [RuMoD] claimed to have nullified three Multiple Launch Rocket Systems [MLRS] including two HIMARS and one Alder MLRS near Selidovo in the Donetsk People’s Republic and Glubokoye in the Kharkiv region on December 31, 2024. 

On the very first day of the new year, the Military Informant Telegram channel shared a video, allegedly showcasing a HIMARS which had just unleashed a barrage, being attacked by artillery rockets dispensing cluster munitions near Konstantinovka. 

The video featured submunition strikes around the launcher suggesting its destruction. However, the veracity of the video remains questionable as it doesn’t provide concrete proof of the alleged destruction. 

m142 himars mlrs lockeed martin
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Though the video proof of the HIMARS neutralization is not conclusive, Russia likely managed to hit the HIMARS before it could fully withdraw from the launch zone. This achievement is notable considering the difficulties typically encountered while trying to engage a HIMARS.

The challenge

Optimized for rapid deployment and repositioning, the HIMARS system is an effective artillery solution. Its wheeled vehicle hosts a single pod accommodating six GMLRS [Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System] projectiles, capable of striking targets approximately 90 km away. 

m142-himars-155-mm-artillery
Photo credit: Twitter

The superior precision of the system is exemplified by the SATNAV and INS-guided rockets. These can effectively neutralize high-value objectives positioned 40 km behind enemy lines, even when deployed from a strategic location 50 km from the frontline. This places the system safely out of reach from most Russian kamikaze drones and MLRS systems. 

It’s important to acknowledge that the time required for a HIMARS to launch all its ammunition is a classified parameter that can differ. Factors such as the rocket variant, the order of fire, and the crew’s operational protocol directly influence this. 

However, one certainty is that the total duration required to discharge all rockets and subsequently relocate is less than the combined time it takes for GMLRS rockets to reach their target, the time needed for a Weapon Locating Radar to process the trajectory of the rockets, the time to relay HIMARS coordinates to a counter-battery MLRS, and the flight time to the HIMARS of counter-battery fire rocket. In the equation of warfare, HIMARS unquestionably holds a pivotal edge.

Russia plans to upgrade 122mm Tornado multiple rocket launcher
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Tornado-S MLRS

The Tornado-S MLRS from Russia has the impressive ability to launch 300 mm SATNAV, and INS-guided rockets featuring either unitary or cluster warheads, over an impressive range exceeding 100 km. However, when it comes to counter-battery firing, by the time these Tornado-S rockets manage to reach the launch point, the HIMARS system would have already ducked to safety. 

A puzzling question arises! There’s a video on Military Informant TC demonstrating rockets arriving at the launch point before HIMARS has a chance to duck out. How is that possible? 

Watch: 122mm Tornado-G MLRS and falling rockets in Kharkiv region
Photo: Flickr

A plausible explanation for this could be the counter-battery rockets were set off before the arrival of the HIMARS rockets within the target zone. This strategy significantly shaves off the response time and blocks the escape route of the HIMARS system. 

This brings us to a critical question – Without resorting to a Weapon Locating Radar that computes the general launch point by outlining the rocket’s path, how did the Russians manage to locate the precise launch point? 

The probable answer lies in the plume of the GMLRS rocket. It’s quite possible that it was detected by an advanced Russian reconnaissance system, which promptly relayed the exact launch coordinates to the counter-battery MLRS. 

Should it be true that Russia has developed the ability to spot the plume of a GMLRS rocket, this could be a significant game-changer that will have a far-reaching impact on the strategic direction of the Special Military Operation [SMO].

Reconnaissance system?

The Russian military boasts several advanced aerial technologies capable of detecting HIMARS rocket launches and directing ground-based counter-battery fire systems. This impressive technological arsenal includes the Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft, Orion MALE drones, and lastly, the EKS Kupol satellite constellation. 

Russia is testing a Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft over Ukraine
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Tu-214R aircraft is a masterpiece of design, engineered for electronic and optical reconnaissance. Furnished with an AESA conformal radar and a high-resolution optoelectronics system, it excels at identifying ground targets. 

This product of rigorous engineering was commissioned for SMO usage in September of 2022. Even though Russia’s inventory was initially limited, the pool of available aircraft for deployment could very well have grown. 

Another noteworthy asset in Russia’s arsenal is the Orion MALE drone. Masterful at radar and optical reconnaissance, the drone has been strategically preserved from airborne attacks by not being used in offensive operations that would expose it to Ukraine’s air defense systems. 

No defense…a quadcopter landed on the Russian A-50 and went back
Video screenshot

There’s a good chance that Russia now possesses an adequate number of Orion drones to achieve round-the-clock surveillance of the battleground. These drones can penetrate deep into Ukrainian territory while staying clear of Ukrainian AD system ranges. With a 24-hour endurance and an operating altitude of around 20,000 ft, they’re highly effective. 

Finally, Russia’s EKS Kupol [Dome] ballistic missile launch early warning system likely possesses the technological prowess to detect the launch of a GMLRS rocket. The Kupol system currently comprises 6 Tundra satellites stationed in highly elliptical Molniya orbits and equipped with ultra-sensitive IRS sensors. 

This constellation, expected to soon augment its ranks with 3 to 4 additional satellites, boasts the capacity to sustain a 24-hour watch for rocket launches, thus ensuring speedy counter-battery response. 

Russia: We are developing a combined self-guided missile for MLRS Tornado-S
Photo credit: Rostec

The precise mechanisms by which Russia identifies HIMARS GMLRS launches remain a mystery. However, it’s crystal clear that the country’s ability to detect these launches is more precise than anything a WLR could produce, and will most likely continue to improve.

Nothing is decided

Despite this, some obstacles still linger in the process of neutralizing a HIMARS system attack, as evidenced by counter-battery fire footage. 

One major challenge lies in the limited precision of counter-battery fire. The fusion of SATNAV and INS can only yield an accuracy of around 10 meters at most, inadequate for certain fallout of HIMARS. The use of cluster munition warheads on the rockets also does not guarantee its destruction. 

Russia announced that it had destroyed two US-made HIMARS MRLs
Photo credit: Wikipedia

For assured destruction, the inclusion of terminal homing on rockets would be crucial. Even though this capability may only manifest in the long run, the rising threat faced by US HIMARS systems stationed behind Ukrainian lines already acts as a significant check on their usage. 

Should the rumored obliteration of two US HIMARS launchers prove accurate, it could signal yet another ominous omen of a possible Ukrainian capitulation come 2024.

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