HIMARS Might Be the Most Overhyped Weapon System Since the Norden Bombsight

The Norden bombsight at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

I want to dispel any illusions anyone has that HIMARS technology will significantly shorten the war in Ukraine.

Lately, I am reluctant to play “armchair general” because, aside from being wrong or wildly inaccurate in predicting outcomes, I feel like it contributes to the idea of violence as a solution to the conflict and the mistaken belief that technology will solve all of our problems. I served in the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines during the Reagan administration, but here rely more on common sense and sixth-grade math. I do this math or analysis to convince people that this war, all war, in addition to being morally wrong, is a pointless waste of lives and resources.

A lot of the HIMARS hyperbole comes from its combat performance in Operation Desert Storm. During one phase of Desert Storm, the United States Army 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, took out 41 Iraqi battalions, two air defense sites, and a tank company in less than 72 hours. See — This U.S. Army artillery unit savaged 41 Iraqi Battalions in 72 hours — We Are The Mighty. This reputation is based on one event, in this case, seventy-two hours in a six-month conflict, Operation Desert Storm. That is seventy-two hours after finding and engaging the enemy. And there lies the rub.

HIMARS is an incredible and potentially game-changing technology, but so was the Norden bombsight, which promised to shorten WWII from years and months to weeks and days. In practice, it did not. See — Norden bombsight — Wikipedia.

Some rough math based on Desert Storm HIMARS combat performance. There were nearly 100 Russian BTGs committed to the initial invasion of Ukraine. Let’s handicap Ukrainian HIMARS by 50 percent effectiveness compared to American units and similar but an opposite handicap for Russian BTGs, that they are 50 percent more resilient than Iraqi units. Comparing Iraqi counter-battery artillery to Russian, which is much more robust, would also subtract significantly from Ukrainian HIMARS effectiveness. Still, I leave that out of this rough calculation for now.

With that logic, 1 UA HIMARS unit could destroy approximately 20 Iraqi units, half of what the American unit could destroy. Russian units are twice as resilient as Iraqi units, so instead of destroying 20 Russian Units in 72 hours, we are now down to 10 Russian units. Again, once you find them and account for other differences between Ukraine and Kuwait.

How do you find the enemy? The answer is intelligence and reconnaissance. If we always knew where the Russians were, the war would be over in 100 Russian BTGs divided by 10 Russian BTGs every three days or 30 days. That’s the shortest time to expel the Russians, assuming you can continuously feed that much ammunition into the system (remember, we left counter-battery artillery differences out of the calculation — once you shoot, you have to move). Finding, engaging, and avoiding counter-battery artillery subtracts from time estimates with all the implied moving, tear-down, setup, and maintenance downtime, which might include crew availability and rotation. We still have to add the geographic area differences, which I discuss below.

Suppose we know where the Russians are half the time; now, it would take 60 days to destroy Russian forces, a quarter of the time, 120 days, an eighth, 240 days, close to 8 months. But we could be off by 50% or more, which would spill over into early 2024. Ask yourself who controls intelligence and reconnaissance for Ukraine. How much are they dependent on the U.S. and NATO for those things? I will use the more conservative or generous, one-eighth, in my rough calculations. The accuracy of the estimate depends on knowing where the Russians are. Remember, that’s eight months after adjusting the required number of HIMARS for geographic differences, which we have not done yet, and now comes the bad news.

From Desert Storm, Iraq/Kuwait terrain/geography is not comparable to Russia/Ukraine. The latter is more extensive, less open, and constrained than the depopulated deserts of Iraq and Kuwait. The other big problem is land area coverage differences. Russia occupies 126,610 sq km of Ukrainian territory (constantly changing). Divide that by Kuwait’s land area, 17,818 km2 = 7.1 times more area coverage. Ouch! I am leaving Iraqi territory out of this calculation but have included all Kuwaiti territory.

Let’s say Kuwait requires one artillery regiment consisting of three battalions, and each battalion has one HIMARS battery with 6 launchers per battery. So,18 HIMARS to cover Kuwaiti territory; you would need 7.1 times as many to cover Russian-occupied Ukraine or 127.8 HIMARS. The number of HIMARS deployed could have been more or less.

Why does my number of required HIMARS agree with what Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov said in July that his country would need “at least 100” HIMARS to reverse Russian gains, per Newsweek? — “How Many HIMARS Does the U.S. Have?” — BY BRENDAN COLE ON 8/10/22 — How Many HIMARS Does the U.S. Have? (newsweek.com). I am just corroborating the figure from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. They did not pull this figure out of thin air, as you can see.

Also, unlike Desert Storm, in addition to being outnumbered 5-to-1 or more, it looks like the UA HIMARS units are not going after Russian infantry personnel with cluster munitions. There are a couple of reasons for that. Targeting high-value logistical targets, ammunition depots, supply hubs, airfields and aircraft, and some counter-battery artillery makes more sense when outnumbered. APCs, armored personnel carriers, that protect infantry are the other reason (there are some political reasons too). The UA does not have enough APCs and is disadvantaged and more vulnerable to such munitions. That is one more reason the Russian infantry is at least 50% more resilient than the Iraqi infantry in Desert Storm.

Again, I base my math on Desert Storm HIMARS combat performance. The Americans used HIMARS with cluster munitions against the Iraqis. It seems cruel in hindsight, but that is the main reason UA is asking for more APCs.

The number of HIMARS delivered, 16, will prove insufficient to expel Russian forces in a reasonable timeframe. I calculated that 128 are needed based on HIMARS combat performance in Operation Desert Storm, which is in the ballpark with the number Ukraine originally asked for. With 16, just extrapolating, I calculated the time to expel Russian forces would be over five years, possibly as much as ten years, or indefinite. Indefinite!

Why would anyone want this war to go on indefinitely? Because it serves American strategy and foreign policy goals.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Loyd Austin, 4/25/2022 in the Washington Post.

Keeping Putin bogged down in Ukraine is a win for the Americans.

Once Putin realizes he has fallen into this trap, this American designed and fueled “meatgrinder,” together with the Ukrainians (who are facing exhaustion), he will recognize that a settlement with Ukraine will be his only alternative. This war serves the American policy goals of hegemony. Why would you expel meat from a meat grinder? You are supposed to keep feeding it in. Right?

This situation will become painfully apparent over the coming weeks or months and will start to drive Putin and the Kremlin crazy. Putin will, at some point, have to offer Ukraine some kind of armistice that it finds acceptable enough to override the objections of their, as the Kremlin puts it, “American Handlers.” Over time, this becomes an unpredictable and dangerous experiment. It only gets more complicated, and other risks mount the longer this conflict continues.

Yes, Russia’s aggression risk could shift away from Ukraine toward other NATO member states. Any armistice between Ukraine and Russia removes Ukraine from the broader conflict between NATO and Russia. That is even more reason for NATO and America to prolong this conflict indefinitely.

My “theory” of the existence of this so-called American-designed and fueled meat grinder is just that, a theory. I think this theory will be proved right or wrong by the end of this year. It could be the case that the Americans have a HIMARS ammunition supply or availability problem and can only feed 16 of these beasts at current rates of fire. Still, I doubt that, especially if you look at Poland.

To me, the disparity between Poland and Ukraine’s HIMARS numbers is very striking. One has to ask why Poland is trying to acquire 500 HIMARS. See — “Poland to Acquire 500 HIMARS From US,” by Joe Saballa, JUNE 7, 2022 — https://www.thedefensepost.com/2022/06/07/poland-himars-us/. I understand they are also talking to South Korea about similar systems. That is a powerful deterrent. I am just sorry they now have to waste so many resources due to this new Russian threat.

End this conflict. The Ukrainian government, the Pentagon, the Kremlin, and sixth graders worldwide have come up with the same solution to the problem. We’ve done the Math, simple sixth-grade math. We have calculated that this war, in its present state, will continue indefinitely.

Ukraine successfully expelling Russian forces affects the optimal functioning of this meat grinder. If Russian forces are going to be worn down, it must be entirely within Ukraine’s borders. What percentage of Ukrainian territory is required to optimize this process? There is another math problem for sixth graders. Zero is not an answer.

Just remember, two countries are being worn down or destroyed in this process, adversely affecting the entire planet. We have to ask ourselves if this is what we want. Technology in the service of this goal is not necessarily the answer, and we definitely should not rely on it to solve the problem. With such technology, hyperbole and arrogance seem to go hand in hand. That arrogance will lead to our downfall. We need to accept that violence only begets more violence, and that all violence eventually rebounds on itself.

Technological advantage is fleeting. For every measure, there is a countermeasure, and for every countermeasure, there is a counter-countermeasure ad infinitum.

After this war is over, the problems that caused it will still be there waiting for us. Why have we not learned that by now?

God save us from this insanity.

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Steve Senatori

Steve Senatori

Resiliency engineer, writer, philosopher, union man, seeker of Truth…