Sa, 28.01.2023

HIMARS extends Estonia’s striking power to enemy’s territory

HIMARS extends Estonia’s striking power to enemy’s territory
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The HIMARS (abbreviation of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System).
The HIMARS (abbreviation of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System). Photo: Valmar Voolaid/Eesti Kaitsevägi
  • Estonia hopes to receive the HIMARS systems by the end of 2024.
  • The rocket systems will take the defense forces’ capabilities to a new level.
  • Developing air defense will become even more urgent due to HIMARS.

The HIMARS (abbreviation of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) rocket systems to be purchased from the United States will grant Estonia for the first time the ability to strike at the enemy in his own territory; until now the defense forces have been able to hit the enemy who has already invaded Estonia.

“This is the reason why we buy HIMARS. Commander of the Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Martin Herem, has described in his military advice that this is exactly the effect he recommends to achieve in order to strengthen the Defense Forces. If we can influence the adversary in his own territory, it will create an operational dilemma for him,” said Kusti Salm, Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense.

With the presence of HIMARS, attacking Estonia will become much more expensive for Russia than it presently is and will force its military to restructure its command and supply routes. Russia has to find alternative ways to attack Estonia, and it becomes more difficult. “It is our assumption that this should force the opponent to change their actions and thus discourage them,” Salm said.

The sale of HIMARS rocket systems to Estonia still needs to be approved by the US Congress. Last week, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency gave the green light to the deal and forwarded the corresponding request to the Congress. According to Salm, the decision of the Congress can be expected in the coming months.

“We have set the goal that Estonia should receive the rocket systems by the end of 2024. This is an exceptionally ambitious schedule that requires special agreements with the arms manufacturer. There are now signs that all of this is feasible. We want to complete the transaction as soon as possible, because our one and only goal is to improve Estonia's military defense as much as possible,” the chancellor said.

Six HIMARS would be sufficient

Estonia will receive six rocket systems, and the deal also includes spare parts, training and ammunition. If necessary, Estonia can procure additional HIMARS systems, but according to Salm, there is no need for a large quantity of the systems and would be more reasonable to invest in larger ammunition stocks.

Considering the small area of Estonia's territory and the range of the weapon, six HIMARS may be sufficient. “If you compare Estonia with Ukraine, they have currently received ten HIMARS from the Americans. In the case of a military conflict, Estonia's front line would be significantly shorter than in Ukraine. Six launchers would form one battery,” Salm said. He added that it is necessary, of course, to significantly increase firepower in the entire Baltic region. Latvia and Lithuania have also expressed their desire to acquire HIMARS, and if they succeed in doing so, the three Baltic states would have one battalion-sized HIMARS unit.

HIMARS currently use two types of munitions: GMLRS rockets with a range of 70-80 kilometers and ATACMS missiles with a range of 300 kilometers. Estonia plans to acquire both. Even the shorter-range rockets are very effective – this is confirmed by the fact that the US has only provided Ukraine with missiles with a range of 70-80 kilometers, but they have managed to rearrange the balance of power.

"It is important to note that this weapon system is designed for high value targets. HIMARS are not meant to be used all the time with no time to cool down. This weapon is used when we know exactly where the target is located. The price of a missile with a range of 300 kilometers is 1.5-2 million euros; therefore it cannot be launched at a random armored vehicle,” said Salm.

Salm does not disclose the price of the missile with a range of 70-80 kilometers. “I was able to tell the price of the 300-kilometer-range missile because it is available from public sources," he said.

Practice rockets will be procured for training

Estonia also plans to acquire shorter-range simulation ammunition which will be used to train HIMARS crews. “The most important thing is that the crew will learn tactical procedures, shooting and aiming, so that the use of the system becomes the servicemen’s muscle memory. It is logical that we will not launch rockets costing more than a million during the training, said Salm.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of HIMARS, is developing PrSM (Precision Strike Missile) missiles with an even longer range of up to 500 kilometers. According to Salm, Estonia is also interested in acquiring them in the future. PrSM is currently undergoing testing and may enter production in the next few years.

HIMARS systems can be expected to become targets for the adversary during a possible military conflict. Salm stated that the security of HIMARS operations and the tactics of their use must be arranged in such a way that the systems would be difficult to detect. The systems are specifically designed so that they can change position quickly.

HIMARS make air defense even more urgent

Strategic communication expert, Colonel Peeter Tali

Long-range multiple rocket launchers and anti-ship missiles will, of course, pose a headache for the Russian General Staff, which is fine with us, but these weapons systems automatically become high-value targets for the enemy. As a result, the organization of air defense, meaning the acquisition of medium-range air defense and developing missile defense capabilities, is becoming an even more urgent issue.

Given that a conventional war is going on in Europe, all investments in the new military resources which fill the gaps in our independent defense capabilities are not only useful but urgently necessary.

No weapons manufacturer is able to compete with the US HIMARS program because the Pentagon meets half of the cost of these high-tech weapons. In security policy sense it is important to purchase this high-tech weapon system from the United States, the most powerful allied nation of NATO.

Despite the small number of weapons systems and the use of rockets with initially a relatively moderate range, HIMARS strikes have already alleviated the situation of the fighting Ukrainian units. The Ukrainians have skillfully and effectively destroyed Russian headquarters, logistics centers, ammunition and fuel depots, units’ staging areas and artillery positions. It has reduced the activity of the Russian artillery and has slowed down the attacking units.