Latest media reports suggest that the efficiency of the HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) may have taken a massive hit as Russia has mastered the jamming of rockets fired by the system.
Multiple people with knowledge of the situation told CNN that Russia had regularly thwarted attacks by the US-made mobile rocket systems in Ukraine. The Russians reportedly employ electronic jammers to confuse the rocket’s GPS-guided targeting system, causing it to miss its targets.
According to the report, the US has assisted Ukrainian military leaders in finding a variety of workarounds so that they can continue to use the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which has been arguably the most admired and feared piece of equipment in Ukraine’s conflict.
The CNN report about rocket jamming comes at a time when Ukraine is gearing up to launch a massive counteroffensive against Russia. Last year, the HIMARS proved a “game changer” as it aided the Ukrainian counterattack and allowed the troops to recapture large swaths of territory from Russia, including Kherson.
However, military experts have long emphasized that after initially being rattled by the HIMARS, the Russians soon adjusted their tactics to take on the challenge. Five US, British, and Ukrainian sources told CNN that Russia’s extensive blocking has made the systems less and less effective over the past few months.
This has forced the US and Ukrainian authorities to investigate methods to modify the HIMARS software to thwart the Russians’ evolving jamming efforts. However, the report does not specify whether they have succeeded so far.
According to a Pentagon official, “it is a constant cat-and-mouse game” of trying to stop the jamming while also having the Russians stop you. Furthermore, it’s unclear how long-lasting that game will be.
Earlier, the leaked Pentagon documents had revealed that the US-supplied JDAM smart bombs were being jammed by the Russians, making them fall dud. At the time, some unnamed American officials had also confirmed that Russia’s jamming had greatly reduced the efficacy of guided rockets and bombs launched by Kyiv’s armed forces.
For the HIMARS, the need for finding a solution is even greater now, given that a substantial Ukrainian counteroffensive is anticipated to begin very soon. On its part, Kyiv’s armed forces heavily rely on HIMARS, so the Russian jamming will likely prevent Ukrainian troops from making any considerable progress.
“It’s one thing to be able to hold the Russians off where they are right now. It’s another thing to drive them out,” retired US Army Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson told CNN. “They’re dug in; they’ve been there for a year.” A Ukrainian counteroffensive would seek to push the Russians further back.
Russia Is Hell Bent On Crippling The HIMARS
HIMARS “have been extremely important,” he said. “They have to be able to keep those HIMARS in the game and keep using them to be able to make effective deep strikes.” The HIMARS system, in the opinion of most experts, has had the most significant impact on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Ever since the HIMARS dislodged Russia from the positions it had occupied, the Russian troops have been wary of the weapon system and have made coordinated battlefield tactics to go after it. For instance, media reports late last year indicated that the Russian air defense troops received new software to quickly detect and shoot down HIMARS multiple launch rocket system missiles.
Further, EurAsian Times reported last month that Russian forces had started employing the S-300 and Buk air defense systems in coordination, allowing them a higher success rate in shooting down the GMLRS fired by HIMARS.
Moreover, some military experts have also noted that improvements in Russian ISR capability and the use of long-range glide bombs are forcing HIMARS launchers to operate from extreme ranges and face greater attrition.
The matter becomes even more complicated with the Russian jamming of the GMLRS munitions. In the latest video featuring HIMARS, a soldier speaking in an automated voice warns, “Russian soldier! Keep sending me target coordinates so that death does not fall from the skies on you.”
However, with the GPS jamming, it is unlikely that the rocket fired from HIMARS would reach these coordinates.
Tweaking To Keep HIMARS Effective
There are just a few ways to alter HIMARS and its rockets. Therefore, the US has been advising the Ukrainians on how to spot and eliminate Russian jammers, a US official revealed to CNN.
According to a senior Pentagon official speaking to CNN, Ukrainian forces fired 18 rockets on May 1, roughly the daily rate over the previous few weeks. Despite downplaying the impact, the official refrained from commenting on the jamming’s wider effects. The manufacturer of HIMARS, Lockheed Martin, has also refused to comment on the matter.
Russian jamming may also negatively affect their forces, hindering their capacity to operate and communicate. However, even when they do work, the HIMARS has been missing targets more frequently, according to a Ukrainian source briefed by drone operators on the front lines.
The HIMARS system, which enables forces to launch up to six rockets quickly toward Russian locations as far as 50 miles away, has been Ukraine’s longest-range rocket system for almost a year.
The 200-pound warheads have destroyed communication nodes, command posts, ammo depots, logistics hubs, and other targets with an accuracy of about 10 feet. This is why the Ukrainian officials must keep the system in the game as they gear up to launch their much-awaited counteroffensive against Russia.
A senior Pentagon official described the upgrades to the software on the rockets and the targeting system software as: “constant tweaking to get them to stay effective,” adding that updates had been made as recently as this week.
“If their jamming gets more sophisticated, then your countermeasures have to get more sophisticated,” a British official agreed. The British officer admitted that as Russia’s electronic interference has developed since HIMARS was initially introduced, the requirements, the training, and the supplemental equipment have changed.
“Jamming is like the weather or the terrain. It’s something that happens that you have to deal with,” the official said. Still, he added, HIMARS remains a “highly useful piece of kit.”
Against that backdrop, Ukraine’s allies in the West are expected to work on defeating Russia’s jamming to keep the HIMARS up and running.
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