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U.S. Poised to Scrap Hundreds of M39 ATACMS Instead of Sending to Ukraine

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Ukrainian forces launch ATACMS missiles at russian airfields, October 2023 / Still frame credit: Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Ukrainian forces launch ATACMS missiles at russian airfields, October 2023 / Still frame credit: Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

The ongoing discussion about the future of expiring weapons is a signal that the United States still hasn't made a choice

When Ukraine successfully launched its first strike with ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles in October 2023, targeting russian helicopters in Luhansk and Berdiansk, there were approximately 1,100 additional missiles in M39 and M39A1 modifications with cluster warhead in possession of the U.S. Army.

Now, in January 2024, several hundred ATACMS missiles are facing potential disposal as their expiry date draws closer, a process that comes at a "significant" expense to American taxpayers, as warned by experts in dialogue with Newsweek.

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ATACMS
MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) / Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The source of information on the planned disposal comes from a comment by Daniel Rice, a former advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

Daniel Rice emphasized that rather than disposing of the ATACMS missiles, it would be more logical and cheaper to transfer them to the Ukrainian military for long-range strikes against russian forces, possibly targeting infrastructure like the so-called Crimean Bridge.

He noted that those aging missiles are still fully operational and can "make a difference" for Ukraine, while the U.S. can replace them with newer and better weapons.

ATACMS and the entire arsenal of the M270A1 and M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers
ATACMS and the entire arsenal of the M270A1 and M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers / Open source illustrative image

Another speaker, General Ben Hodges, added that the ATACMS missiles earmarked for disposal could potentially last for several more years. He indicated that the decision to destroy these missiles rather than send them to Ukraine seems politically motivated and has little to do with safety considerations.

Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), noted that the actual combat readiness of ATACMS missiles depends on the condition of their solid-fuel engines, the fuel itself, and the storage conditions. While formal expiry dates are declared, technical diagnostics in each case can reveal the actual resource of the missiles, which might be higher than officially stated.

On a note from Defense Express, the considerations of destroying the expired ATACMS on the proving grounds signals that despite Ukraine's success in utilizing this weapon, the U.S. is still hesitant to continue supplying additional batches.

Archive video: Ukrainian forces launch ATACMS missiles at russian airfields, October 2023

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