Ukraine’s ATACMS wreak havoc deep behind Russia’s lines

Ukraine is wielding long-range missiles against Russian targets far behind the current front lines, making frequent use of newly-supplied aid to hit Moscow’s troops, air-defense systems, aircraft and vessels.

Ukrainian and Russian sources, as well as open-source analysts, have attributed a string of damaging Ukrainian attacks on Moscow’s facilities in recent weeks to U.S.-donated Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles.

ATACMS have long featured high up on Ukraine’s aid wish list, giving Kyiv’s troops the firepower to strike high-value Russian assets behind the front lines.

Ukraine debuted its ATACMS in October 2023 using a cluster variant of the missiles to strike two Russian military bases in Ukraine, damaging a number of helicopters. In late April, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden had authorized sending a “significant number of ATACMS missiles” to Ukraine in February.

U.S. Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) firing a missile on July 29, 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. Ukrainian and Russian sources, as well as open-source analysts, have attributed a string of damaging Ukrainian attacks…

South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

They were part of a $300-million aid package announced in mid-March, and they had already arrived in Ukraine for use within its borders, Sullivan said last month.

The ATACMS provided more recently are understood to be longer-range missiles, capable of striking deeper into Russian-controlled territory. While Moscow’s forces advance in mainland Ukraine, Kyiv has zeroed in on targets like jets and command centers deep behind the front lines, often in Crimea.

Ukraine’s Western allies have warned Kyiv the weapons are only for use in contested territory, rather than areas internationally recognized as parts of Russia. Moscow seized control of Crimea from Kyiv a decade ago, and Ukraine has vowed to reclaim it.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kyiv had struck a Russian military communications center servicing Russian air defenses in the southern Crimean city of Alushta using ATACMS, citing a Ukrainian defense official.

Several other strikes on the Russian-controlled peninsula have been attributed to ATACMS. In April, Kyiv initially used longer-range ATACMS to hit an air base in Crimea that took out a number of missile launchers and radars making up advanced air-defense systems, the Journal reported, citing Ukrainian officials.

Separately, satellite imagery widely shared online also appears to show the aftermath of Ukrainian ATACMS strikes on the Belbek airfield just outside the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, used by Russian forces. The imagery suggests Ukraine succeeded in damaging or destroying several aircraft.

Ukraine’s military said last weekend that it had struck a Russian minesweeper vessel in Sevastopol, but later added a second vessel—Moscow’s Tsiklon missile-armed corvette—was hit. Questions again swirled about whether Ukraine used ATACMS to target Sevastopol, as Russian independent outlet Astra reported that three of the weapons penetrated Russian air defenses around the Tsiklon.

Earlier this week, analysts said Kyiv destroyed four missile launchers and a radar station belonging to Moscow’s forces in a Kremlin-controlled part of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that ATACMS missiles were responsible for a strike near Mospyne.

Earlier this month, a strike on a Russian military training ground in the Moscow-annexed Luhansk region was chalked up to ATACMS.