June 12, 2023 | Policy Brief

Bipartisan Coalition Urges Biden to Send ATACMS to Ukraine

June 12, 2023 | Policy Brief

Bipartisan Coalition Urges Biden to Send ATACMS to Ukraine

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers introduced a resolution on Friday urging the Biden administration to send Ukraine the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). These missiles would facilitate Kyiv’s ongoing counteroffensive by allowing Ukraine to strike high-value military targets in Russian-occupied territory deep behind the front lines.

Congressman Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, introduced the resolution. Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) co-sponsored it along with Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Bill Keating (D-MA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Jared Golden (D-ME). The resolution calls on the administration “to immediately provide Army Tactical Missile Systems to Ukraine in sufficient quantity to hasten Ukraine’s victory against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression while still maintaining United States military readiness.”

Modern variants of ATACMS have a range of up to 300 kilometers and carry a 500-pound warhead. These missiles offer more than triple the range of Ukraine’s Western-supplied Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rounds. By striking Russian command-and-control posts, key logistics nodes, and other high-value targets, the Ukrainian military could use ATACMS to degrade Russia’s ability to resist Ukrainian advances.

Although Kyiv has already received Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles from the United Kingdom, providing ATACMS would still be worthwhile. It would offer valuable additional capacity, allowing Ukraine to strike more targets. ATACMS would also be more survivable. These missiles are fired from mobile ground launchers that Russia has so far proven unable to fix and destroy. By contrast, Ukrainian Su-24 aircraft carrying the Storm Shadow must brave lethal Russian air defenses. The ATACMS rounds themselves would also be tougher to intercept, as they travel nearly four times faster.

Most important, ATACMS has a longer range than the Storm Shadow, which can hit targets roughly 250 kilometers away. That additional range would allow Ukraine to hold at risk all of Crimea as well as the Kerch Bridge, which connects the peninsula to Russia. Moscow relies on that bridge to supply its troops in southern Ukraine. But it lies at the ragged edge of the Storm Shadow’s range, requiring Ukrainian pilots to fly right up to the front line to strike it — a perilous proposition. Tellingly, Ukraine has yet to hit the bridge with a Storm Shadow.

The Biden administration has rebuffed Kyiv’s repeated requests for ATACMS out of a fear of inviting Russian escalation and depleting U.S. stockpiles. Both those concerns are overstated.

Ukraine has conducted numerous Storm Shadow strikes deep in the Russian rear, and France plans to send Kyiv its own version of that missile. Yet Moscow has not retaliated militarily against the United Kingdom, France, or any other NATO ally. Nor has Russia employed weapons of mass destruction against Ukraine.

Washington could further reduce the risk of escalation by stipulating that Kyiv may use ATACMS only against targets in occupied Ukrainian territory, including Crimea. The Ukrainian military has dutifully abided by similar commitments regarding the Storm Shadow and GMLRS.

Regarding U.S. stocks, the resolution notes that “the United States and allied countries collectively possess thousands of ATACMS that could be transferred to Ukraine.” Congress would do well to force the Pentagon to prove it cannot afford to spare even a few dozen of these missiles.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 authorized the Pentagon to strike a multiyear contract to purchase 1,700 ATACMS, which could replenish U.S. stocks. Since Russia launched its 2022 invasion, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency has greenlit the potential sale of a total of 211 ATACMS to Australia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, the Netherlands, and Morocco. What is more, the Pentagon already plans to replace ATACMS with the more capable Precision Strike Missile, which is expected to reach initial operating capability later this year.

Ukraine likely faces many months of tough fighting ahead. By providing ATACMS now, Washington can hasten Ukrainian battlefield victories while saving Ukrainian lives and American treasure.

John Hardie is deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from John and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow John on Twitter @JohnH105. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine