Fact Check: Did Russia Claim it Destroyed 44 HIMARS Launchers in Ukraine?

Ukraine has been using the American-provided M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to devastating effect over the past couple of months, hitting Russian bases and arms depots well behind the front line.

In total, the U.S. says it has sent 16 HIMARS, with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov confirming the first systems had arrived on June 23.

Russia has repeatedly claimed to have destroyed HIMARS, either on their own or in small groups, but none of these assertions have been independently confirmed.

US sends 16 HIMARS launchers to Ukraine
An American M142 HIMARS rocket launcher is parked on the tarmac at the 2021 Dubai Airshow in the Gulf emirate on November 15, 2021. The U.S. has sent 16 HIMARS to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP/GETTY

Ukraine has used its HIMARS to repeatedly hit bridges across the Dnieper river, which separates the Russian-occupied city of Kherson from the main area of Russian-controlled territory south of the river.

This week Ukrainian forces appear to have made some advances towards Kherson, with reports indicating a full-scale counter-offensive could be underway.

According to The Washington Post, Ukrainian forces have tricked their Russian opponents into attacking several decoy HIMARS, which are largely made of wood.

The Claim

A number of prominent Twitter and Telegram accounts have said Russia is claiming to have destroyed 44 Ukrainian HIMARS.

Most of those reports mockingly pointed out the claim is unlikely given that's nearly three times as many launchers as the U.S. has confirmed it delivered to the country.

The claim was originally made on Thursday by 'Flash', an account with 47,400 followers which says it provides "information about war in Ukraine without fake news 24/7."

"The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation has announced today at a briefing the destruction of 44 HIMARS out of 20 that are in service in Ukraine, – according to open sources," Flash tweeted, in a message that received more than 3,000 likes and 470 retweets at the time of writing.

It was also made by the official account of the BBC Ukrainian language news service, and repeated by the organization in a live blog.

They tweeted: "The Russian Ministry of Defence is confident that it has destroyed 44 HIMARS systems. This is unlikely to be accurate information."

The BBC drew attention to a Russian Defence Ministry map, which included the claim to have destroyed 44 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems - on which HIMARS are a type) near the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.

They did however suggest this may be a reference to missiles rather than HIMARS launchers, adding: "Perhaps the Ministry of Defence meant that it had intercepted 44 missiles launched from HIMARS. Such information appeared in the Russian report on 30 August. But in this case, the inscription on the map from today's summary is not correct, since it clearly follows from it that we are talking about missile systems, and not about individual missiles."

On Friday, the original claim was repeated by Twitter account 'NEXTA', which describes itself as "the largest Eastern European media" and has over 990,000 followers.

The account tweeted a clown emoji followed by "Russia's Ministry of Defense claims its military has destroyed 44 #HIMARS."

This was retweeted more than 170 times and had received over 2,100 likes at the time of writing.

The Facts

On August 30, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had intercepted 44 Ukrainian HIMARS rockets in southern Ukraine. Crucially, the officials didn't claim to have hit any of the launchers themselves, a nuance that appears to have been lost in the reporting.

In a press briefing, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: "In the areas of the city of Kherson, Novaya Kakhovka, Kherson region, Antonovsky bridge and Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station, three Ukrainian Tochka-U ballistic missiles were intercepted in the air, as well as 53 projectiles of multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). Including: 44 - HIMARS, five 'Alder' and four 'Hurricane'."

Alder is a reference to the Ukrainian-developed Vilkha, or Alder Tree, multiple rocket launcher, which entered the country's service in 2018.

The BM-27 Uragan, or 'Hurricane,' is a Soviet system first designed in the 1970s, and still in use with the Ukrainian military.

The confusion in the media may have arisen from the map seen in the background behind Konashenkov in the briefing, which does state "44 HIMARS" in Russian.

But while on its own the image can be interpreted as referencing the launchers, the context and the content of the official briefing confirm that it was referring to the missiles.

While Newsweek cannot independently corroborate whether or not Russian air-defense systems have indeed intercepted the stated number of HIMARS missiles (the Russian Defense Ministry has a track record of inflating its victories in Ukraine), the suggestion that it took credit for destroying 44 HIMARS launchers is patently false.

NEXTA and 'Flash' have been contacted for comment.

The Ruling

Misleading Material

Misleading Material.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not claim it had destroyed 44 HIMARS launchers, a total greater than Ukraine has ever possessed. Instead, it said it had shot down 44 missiles launched by HIMARS in one stretch of southern Ukraine.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek