Long-range US rockets could give Ukraine major boost: analysts

PARIS (AFP): The long-range rockets that Moscow says the United States has delivered to Ukraine could be a strategic asset for Kyiv against Russian troops in coming months, analysts say.

Russia on Tuesday said it had for the first time downed a ground-launched small-diameter bomb (GLSDB), a munition that can fly up to 150 kilometers (93 miles).

Kyiv has not confirmed the delivery, but the US Defense Department in early February said it would ship over the rocket-propelled precision bombs as part of a fresh arms package for the country.

Western nations have rallied to the side of Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor on February 24, 2022, dispatching all manner of weaponry to help.

But until now, Ukrainian forces could only strike some 80 kilometers behind the frontlines thanks to US high-precision HIMARS rockets.

“The HIMARS had already forced the Russians to reorganize their command and logistics, either by rendering them more discreet near the frontline or by withdrawing them 80 kilometers beyond it,” said Leo Peria-Peigne of the French Institute of International Relations.

Now faced with the far longer-reaching GLSDB, the Russians will have to move almost double the distance away from the frontline, and do so “with an already limited fleet of vehicles,” Peria-Peigne said.

The new deliveries also mean Russian-controlled shores of the Black Sea are now within firing range, complicating supply deliveries to the troops by sea.

On Monday, the UK defense ministry said it had since February 21 recorded at least 14 explosions around the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, more than 80 kilometers from the frontline.

“Russia will likely be concerned that unexplained explosions are occurring in a zone it had probably previously assessed as beyond the range of routine Ukrainian strike capabilities,” it said.

Produced by Boeing and the Saab Group, the GLSDB can hit a target from any angle within one meter, Saab says.

It was tested for the first time in Sweden in 2015, Boeing says on its website.

But its real trial will come in Ukraine.

“It will be the first real-time, massive use of this weapon, which will test its performance including in terms of precision,” Peria-Peigne said.

Kyiv on Monday said it had received modern Leopard and Challenger battle tanks from Germany and the United Kingdom, but the French expert said the long-range rocket offered more potential.

“Fifty tanks, even if they are the best in the world, will hardly have a strategic impact, but that is not the case for 10,000 GLSDB — if they live up to their promise,” he said.

Ivan Klyszcz, a research fellow at the Estonia-based International Center for Defense and Security, was more tempered in his predictions.

“The introduction of new systems — such as GLSDB — might change the dynamics on the battlefield in one direction or another,” he said.

But “right now, for Ukraine and Russia, the war effort comes down to manpower and artillery shells. The EU agreement to deliver one million shells to Ukraine strikes me as more consequential in that sense.”

The 27-nation bloc has agreed a plan aimed at supplying Kyiv with one million artillery shells over the next 12 months.

But Western allies often take a long time to agree to deliver the weapons that Ukraine requests.

Kyiv has, for example, long been begging for fighter jets, but has only so far secured a promise of 17 Soviet-design MiG-29 jets — 13 from Slovakia and four from neighboring Poland.

“It takes time for politicians and decision-makers to form coalitions to approve new arms deliveries,” said Klyszcz.

Many have initially been reluctant, fearing an escalation that would lead to a more direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Military aid to Ukraine “is becoming politicized in some countries,” with some Republicans in the United States for example increasingly questioning the deliveries.

But, said Peria-Peigne, Moscow can do little except protest.

Despite veiled threats that he will unleash a nuclear weapon, Russian President Vladimir “Putin cannot attack… another country as he is already struggling to beat Ukraine,” he said.

“And he cannot attack NATO as he knows he will lose.”