The US must send the most advanced version of the ATACMS long-range missile to Ukraine, a former commander of US forces in Europe has said.
Joe Biden is widely reported to have approved the transfer of the US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine before a visit by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last week.
But the administration is considering sending the shorter-range cluster munition variant of the missile, rather than the 190-mile range and single-blast variant known as the unitary warhead, according to the Washington Post.
Former US general Ben Hodges urged the Biden administration to send the longest-range warhead, saying the shorter one “would not be as effective at destroying large Russian facilities in Crimea”.
There have also been debates about the amount with reports that the US will only send a “small number” to avoid depleting its own supplies.
Lt Gen Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, told the War Zone that it would take “hundreds” of ATACMS to change the overall situation on the battlefield.
The US has only made 4,000 of the missiles and Mr Biden is reportedly weighing up gifting 100 to Ukraine.
The ATACMS missile does not need to be launched by a fighter jet unlike the British-French Storm Shadow/SCALP EG.
It also takes five minutes to travel 190 miles while the Storm Shadow takes 15.
“Faster speed and easy delivery mean that ATACMS is better able to engage time-sensitive targets, including mobile missile launchers and high-ranking military officials on a front-line visit, for example,” said Fabian Hoffmann, a missile expert at the University of Oslo.
There are several variants of ATACMS but the US is thought most likely to donate refurbished missiles that have passed their expiry date.
That would mean either sending the old M39 or the updated M39A1, Mr Hoffman said. The newer missile has a range of 190 miles while its predecessor has 100.
The Telegraph understands Kyiv’s use of the similarly ranged Storm Shadow cruise missiles for strikes only inside Ukraine has helped alleviate fears in the US administration that ATACMS could be used on targets across the Russian border, an outcome the White House still considers escalatory and problematic.
Dangerously low stockpiles
Some officials have been nervous that with an assessed production line of around 40 a month, any significant donation to Ukraine would leave the US with dangerously low stockpiles in the event of a military crisis.
Supply worries may have been mitigated by the anticipated arrival in 2024 of the US Army’s new Precision Strike Missile (PrSM), which was designed to replace ATACMS.
With an anticipated range of around 500km, the PrSM will be available to US forces only because of the collapse in 2019 of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. This had prohibited the US and Russia from deploying ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km.
Last week Douglas Bush, the assistant Secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, said the development of PrSM “might make it less risky from a readiness standpoint” to provide ATACMS to Ukraine.
The latest variant of ATACMS will allow all of Crimea to be within range, including the Kerch bridge if necessary. The use of the unitary warhead will also allow Kyiv to target command posts and protected weapon storage sites at ranges beyond the reach of Storm Shadow, a weapon system thought to soon be in short supply given recent British and French defence spending.
Lt Gen Budanov suggested other Russian sites may be prioritised, particularly given the longest-range ATACMS can also deploy sub-munitions to destroy targets spread over a wide area.
“The Russians just place command posts and other things beyond those distances so we don’t have anything to reach them there,” he said.
“The situation is the same with Russian aviation at the airfields. Fighting Russian aviation using air defence systems is very costly and ineffective. Aviation should be taken out at the air bases.”