U.S. 'God of War' HIMARS Set To Form NATO Eastern Shield Against Russia

The U.S.-made M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is a breakout star of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, used by Ukrainian defenders to inflict devastating damage on Moscow's troop concentrations and supply hubs as Kyiv's forces push multi-pronged counteroffensives.

America's NATO allies have taken notice, and the "new God of War," as one analyst described the system, looks set to be a key part of the alliance's eastern shield against Russian aggression for the foreseeable future.

Last week, Lithuania became the last of NATO's Baltic states to secure a HIMARS deal, with the U.S. approving the sale of eight systems for $495 million.

Counterparts Estonia and Latvia announced their plans to acquire six HIMARS systems each in July and October, respectively. Poland already agreed its first deal for 20 systems in 2018.

But, amid a historic military expansion, Poland is looking to add hundreds more HIMARS to its arsenal, though concerns about how long delivery would take has prompted Warsaw to seek supplementary Chunmoo systems from South Korea.

'God of War'

HIMARS during Latvia military drill September 2022
A High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) is pictured during military exercise Namejs 2022 on September 26, 2022 in Skede, Latvia. GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Images

"HIMARS now is the new God of War," said Mark Voyger, a former special adviser for Russian and Eurasian affairs to then-commander of U.S. Army Europe General Ben Hodges, describing the system's use in Ukraine as "a christening of sorts."

"It has proven its efficiency, and this is the first time the HIMARS has been used in such numbers, especially against the armed forces of another state," Voyger, now a non-resident senior fellow at Center for European Analysis and professor at American University of Kyiv, told Newsweek.

"They provide such an advantage. It's almost impossible to defend against with what the Russians have," Voyger said.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia has failed to destroy a single HIMARS, despite Moscow's repeated and unproven claims to the contrary.

Voyger added: "They are so precise and so powerful in physical terms, these six or 12 rockets are much thicker and much more massive than what the Russians are shooting—the GRAD and SMERCH and other systems. And most importantly, they're long range."

Baltic Defense

The Baltic states—long more hawkish on Russia than many of their Western allies—have already taken the lead in diplomatic and military support for Kyiv.

In the years to come, the region is likely to prove a powerful intra-NATO and European Union bloc pushing for more assertive deterrence of Moscow, underpinned by more potent militaries informed by Ukraine's battlefield successes.

Darius Antanaitis, a Lithuanian defense analyst, told Newsweek that his government's HIMARS acquisition should be understood as part of a broader pivot towards more battlefield-capable armed forces, as well as a move towards closer U.S. cooperation.

"You need to have real combat capability which will be capable of fighting against a conventional army like the Russian army," Antanaitis said. "It is not enough to rely on your allies like the U.S., Germany or Poland. You must have the capability to fight on your own."

"You must rely on U.S. satellites in order to upload the right GPS information and target acquisition information," Antanaitis explained, noting that the war in Ukraine has underlined the "essential" U.S. role in collective European security.

No More 'Tripwire'

NATO hopes that advanced weapons such as HIMARS will help stop a potential Russian incursion before it can gain a foothold

Regional leaders long railed against the NATO "tripwire" concept, which envisaged the Baltic states as a kind of early warning system—or speed bump—in the event of a Russian invasion of eastern Europe.

The war in Ukraine has prompted the alliance to ditch the tripwire in favor of stronger deterrence and defense; an intention to fiercely contest every inch of NATO territory.

"The security situation on NATO's eastern flank rapidly deteriorated after Russia's second attack on Ukraine this February," Olevs Nikers, the president of the Baltic Security Foundation, told Newsweek.

"The Baltic countries are the most exposed to the Russian threat and now it is critical for eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, as well as for the European and transatlantic communities, to ensure credibility of the deterrence for the eastern flank."

Land forces, Nikers said, are especially important for the small Baltic states that would bear the brunt of Russian action.

"We must refocus more on the combat and combat readiness," he added, including for example anti-tank weapons, anti-air defense, coastal missile batteries, multiple launch rocket systems, and supporting radars.

Aftermath of Ukrainian HIMARS strike in Balakliia
Wreckage of vehicles lie at a Russian military base destroyed by Ukrainian forces in a HIMARS strike during a counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast, on September 26, 2022 in Balakliia, Ukraine. Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The Baltic states are too small to absorb any Russian incursion, particularly if they are cut off from Poland by a Russian westward drive from Belarus through the Suwalki Gap.

"The problem is that they don't have operational depth," Voyager said. "They absolutely need this type of advanced system to actually be able to hit the Russians from afar."

The Ukrainians have been able to retreat, reform, and counter. But Baltic defenders will need to stop the Russians in their tracks.

"This long-range artillery, I think it's a game changer for the Baltic nations and for Poland," Voyager said. "I would imagine that the orders will multiply from the Baltic States and Poland, possibly Romania and Bulgaria too."

HIMARS will help the Baltic nations neutralize, or at least impair, Russia's most potent conventional weapon: artillery. "When you don't have the capability to shoot far behind the front line, it's like trying to cut the heads off a Hydra," Antanaitis said of counter-artillery operations. "When you have long range artillery and missiles, you can kill the Hydra."

Not a 'Wunderwaffe'

HIMARS has captured the hearts of Ukrainians and their supporters around the world. But it is but one piece of a much broader strategic puzzle of deterrence.

"We must understand that HIMARS is just a system, it is not a 'wunderwaffe' [wonder-weapon]," Antanaitis said.

The attrition rate of western weapons and ammunition poses its own problems. Lockheed Martin—the maker of the HIMARS—is already increasing production, but Western nations generally have more limited weapons stocks than their Russian adversaries.

"The problem is that being so powerful, long-ranging and precise, these are extremely expensive systems to operate," Voyger said. "We'll see if the precision and long-range power of the HIMARS side can offset the randomness and multiplicity of the Russian and Soviet systems. I think the HIMARS would win out."

NATO troops stand on tank in Lithuania
German (L), Lithuanian (C) and American (R) soldiers are pictured standing on an American Abrams main battle tank during the NATO Iron Wolf military exercises on October 26, 2022 in Pabrade, Lithuania. The alliance has expanded its presence in the Baltic states in response to Russia's latest invasion of Ukraine. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Ukrainian and western resolve has not collapsed as the Kremlin hoped, though the combination of a looming winter and bleak economic forecasts raise some hope for Moscow. Societal cohesion remains more important than any one weapons system, Nikers said.

"The main lesson from this war is that resilience of the whole of society matters the most, as far as it goes to values of freedom and democracy, which will be defended by all means," Nikers said.

"Russia in Ukraine is widely using asymmetrical and non-conventional means of warfare, which is something that we should be always aware of when thinking about how to strengthen our defenses and societal resilience effectively."