The US could finally hand over the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine as the defense bill allocates $80 million to purchase the weapon for Kyiv’s army.
However, the weapon will take at least a year to reach Ukraine, given the ensuing pipeline and industrial process, because the missile will not be shipped from US military arsenals. It will be commissioned to the industry, which will take time to manufacture.
Thus, after the main battle tanks and the F-16 fighters, this became the third weapon system that the US approved after a year of initially rejecting its shipment to Ukraine.
In particular, the F-16s and ATACMS were a no-no, as the US feared they would be used to strike inside Russia, triggering severe retaliation and dragging Washington and Europe into the war.
Given the estimated time for each weapon to be ready for Ukraine, all three could arrive on the front lines around the same time next year.
US officials have estimated that the M1A2 Abrams will be available next year, given the acute complexities of training, logistics, and maintenance. The same is true of the F-16 fighters.
This stresses Ukrainian pilots moving from Soviet to Western fighter piloting, tactics and doctrine.
The MGM-140 ATACMS are surface-to-surface missiles fired from multiple launch rocket systems, including the US-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). ATACMS munitions have a range of about 190 kilometers, about four times that of the longest-range HIMARS rockets currently in Ukrainian hands.
After the Abrams and the F-16s, the ATACMS was imminent
According to the bill, no less than $80 million will be spent on the acquisition of the ATACMS for Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). This implies purchases and transactions between the government and the market, which translates into a longer term, especially since the US will not send the ATACMS from its military arsenals.
This occurs under the Presidential Arms Reduction Authority (PDA) when the government arms Ukraine with its own inventory of weapons, as was the case with the Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), Artillery Rocket System of High Mobility (HIMARS), the 155-millimeter artillery rounds, the M777 light howitzer and the Abrams tanks.
On May 30, President Joe Biden stated that the issue of supplying Ukraine with US ATACMS missiles “is still up for grabs.” Biden made the remarks outside the White House when asked about his response to Russia’s escalating airstrikes in Ukraine. Biden said the Russian tactic “was not unexpected (and) that’s why we have to keep giving Ukraine everything it needs.”
On June 14, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, stated that Washington’s “change of tone” regarding some military aid to Kyiv depends on a wide set of factors.
This also applies to long-range ATACMS missiles. “There are many possibilities that we first hear ‘no,’ and then we hear ‘yes’ about,” the diplomat added, referring to Kyiv’s successful lobbying for advanced weaponry, including HIMARS, anti-aircraft systems and main battle tanks.
It takes a long time to reach Ukraine.
The ATACMS still has to go through a lengthy bureaucratic and administrative process for approval and manufacturing in the United States, which lasts at least a year. For one thing, the section of the National Defense Bill requires the Secretary of Defense to report to congressional defense committees by December 31 of this year “on the progress of the use of USAI for the acquisition and availability of ATACMS for the Armed Forces of Ukraine».
In fact, Defense Secretary Llyod Austin may not appear before the committees just before the deadline. Assuming the appearance occurs in the next two to three months, the subsequent formal order to Lockheed Martin (the developer and manufacturer of the ATACMS) and the start of manufacturing will take several months.
Second, defense executives have been pointing out in various earnings calls since last year how long it would take to increase production by smoothing and securing the supply of components, subcomponents, and electronics from other manufacturers for their weapons systems. The disruption of supply chains following the Covid crisis, in particular, and the decline in US manufacturing, in general, have contributed to this situation.
Companies often source various small engines, castings, microelectronics, and microchips in rockets and missiles. For example, it would take HIMARS production alone to grow from six to eight units a month, despite Lockheed’s $65 million in creating a new manufacturing line, Politico reported in October of last year.