- Ukraine is asking the US for a rocket artillery system it says it needs to defend itself against Russia.
- The US has not committed to providing Ukraine with the MLRS but says its "under consideration"
- Russia has indicated it considers providing Ukraine with the MLRS to be escalatory.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been asking the United States for weeks to provide multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), arguing that these longer-range weapons will give Ukrainian forces the ability to strike Russian targets from positions farther away and allow them to better defend against Russian barrages in eastern Ukraine.
Despite these pleas, the Biden administration says a decision has not yet been made on whether or not to send the rocket artillery systems to Ukraine. Considerations regarding the MLRS appear to still be ongoing, but President Joe Biden has said that "we're not going to send Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia." The concern seems to be the risk of escalation.
On Russian state television, hosts said the provision of MLRS to Ukraine by the US would constitute "crossing a red line." A host said that with such a move, "we'll have witnessed an attempt to provoke a very harsh response from Russia."
Sending long-range fire systems to Ukraine is still "under consideration," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. However, the US "won't be sending long-range rockets for use beyond the battlefield in Ukraine," she said.
In the intense artillery fight in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian forces are using, among other combat systems, M777 howitzers provided by the United States. These towed 155mm artillery pieces have a range of about 18 miles and are operated by a minimum crew of five but normally by about eight.
The rocket artillery systems Ukraine has asked for could more than double their range or even extend it farther, depending on the munition. The guided MLRS rockets have a range of about 43 miles and can be fired by a crew of 3 people. Other munitions have longer ranges, such as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) with its range of about 186 miles, but the US is only considering sending shorter-range systems, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The MLRS can fire 12 to 18 guided rockets in under a minute and be set up, fired and moved to another position quickly before enemy artillery can pinpoint the crews location.
Lockheed Martin Corp., the manufacturer of the M270 MLRS, says the guided rockets can be fired from an MLRS tracking launcher or from a lighter-weight wheeled launcher called the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
US officials told The Wall Street Journal that the MLRS will give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets throughout the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Amid debates within the Biden administration about how to move forward with weapons packages for Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Friday the United States is "still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield," adding that the strategy for helping Ukraine defend itself has rapidly changed over the last 90 days since Russia launched an invasion of its neighbor.
"You know, earlier, we were all about Javelins and Stingers, and that's all you guys wanted to ask about, and now, we're asking about MLRS, I get it," Kirby told reporters last week. "The way we have helped Ukraine defend itself has changed over time as the fight has changed over time, and we're going to be committed to this for as long as the Ukrainians need the support."