Jakarta, CNBC Indonesia – The United States (US) is close to agreeing to send long-range missiles equipped with bombs clusters (cluster munitions) into Ukraine, thereby giving Kyiv the ability to cause significant damage deeper into Russian-occupied territories.
Three US officials said that after seeing the success of cluster munitions delivered in the form of 155 mm artillery pieces in recent months, the US is considering fielding one or both of the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) that can fly up to 190 miles (306 km), or the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) with a range of 45 miles equipped with cluster bombs
If approved, either option will be available for fast delivery to Kyiv.
Ukraine is currently equipped with 155 mm artillery with a maximum range of 18 miles carrying up to 48 bombs. The ATACMS under consideration would be capable of firing around 300 bombs or more. The GMLRS rocket system, a version of which Ukraine has had for months, would be capable of deploying up to 404 cluster munitions.
As Ukraine’s efforts against Russian forces show signs of progress, the government wants to increase Ukraine’s military strength at a crucial time, two sources told Reuters.
However, the decision to send ATACMS or GMLRS, or both, is not final and could still fall through, four sources familiar with the plans said. The Biden administration has struggled for months with decisions regarding ATACMS over concerns that sending them would be seen as too aggressive a move against Russia.
According to the US Army website, ATACMS is designed for “deep strikes against enemy second-echelon forces” and can be used to attack command and control centers, air defenses and logistics locations far behind front lines.
Kyiv has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for ATACMS to help attack and disrupt supply lines, air bases and rail networks in Russian-occupied territory.
Last week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the US providing long-range missiles and he expected a positive decision.
“Now is the time,” said one US official as Ukrainian forces attempted to break through Russian defense lines south of the city of Orikhiv in an effort to divide Russian forces and put their main supply lines under threat. An ATACMS or GMLRS with this capability would not only boost Ukrainian morale but also provide a necessary tactical punch in the fight.
The US plan is to include weapons containing grenades in the upcoming US ammunition stockpile, according to the four US officials.
Ukraine currently has only one US-made cluster munition, the 155 mm round announced in July.
The new weapons will add to Ukraine’s current 45-mile range of GMLRS ammunition, a version capable of firing more than 100,000 sharp tungsten fragments, but not bombs.
Built by Lockheed Martin, ATACMS comes in several versions, some of which can fly four times the range of GMLRS, and their use could reset the battlefield calculus.
The Presidential Withdrawal Authority (PDA), which allows the government to take US arms stockpiles and send them to Ukraine has proven to be the quickest way – in a matter of days or weeks – to send arms to Ukraine.
In the interim – ahead of the arrival of ATACMS – necessary software upgrades can be made to launchers including the M270 and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that Kyiv already uses on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, cluster munitions are banned in more than 100 countries. Russia, Ukraine and the United States have not signed the Cluster Munitions Convention, which prohibits the production, stockpiling, use and transfer of weapons.
They usually release large numbers of small bombs that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area. Disasters that fail to explode will pose dangers for decades after the conflict ends.
Washington has provided more than US$40 billion in military aid to Kyiv since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor on February 24, 2022.
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