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 THE FIREPOWER THAT UKRAINE NEEDS

Current discussions of whether U.S. should provide lethal weapons to Ukraine rarely focus on what exactly is needed to defeat Russian Army. U.S. Maj. Gen. Scales in his opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal explains why MLRSes would make Putin think twice before making another step towards escalation of the conflict in the Donbas.

With the fragile cease-fire brokered last week in Minsk, Belarus, already appearing to crumble, President Obama should begin sending Ukraine the "lethal defensive weapons" it needs-and desperately wants-to defend itself from further incursions by Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

If Washington began supplying Kiev with the latest weapons technologies now, it might deter future Russian aggression, and perhaps even dull President Vladimir Putin's apparent ambition to annex much, if not all, of eastern Ukraine. Half-measures, however, could make matters worse. A few U.S. arms in the hands of the Ukrainian army might give Mr. Putin the excuse he needs to broaden and intensify his campaign.

What to do?

Some alternatives are already off the table. Supplying aircraft to the Ukrainian air force won't work because the Russians have mobilized sophisticated missile systems along Russia's western border, effectively walling off Ukraine from aerial intervention. Sending U.S. or NATO heavy-fighting gear like tanks and armored vehicles directly into the contested zones probably won't work either because the Russians have crowded their conquered space with a vastly superior arsenal of tanks and antitank missiles.

Sending small arms, ammunition and antitank ordnance to the Ukrainians will certainly help. But at this stage in the fighting the Russians and their rebel allies possess a level of materiel "overmatch" that cannot be overcome with light infantry weapons alone.

The Russians have recently introduced artillery-locating radars linked to long-range artillery units. These "artillery strike complexes" identify Ukrainian artillery firing positions and return fire in overwhelming barrages. Pro-Russian infantry forces follow each barrage with a quick ground assault, pushing the Ukrainians steadily away from the occupied zones. The Ukrainian army has no means of countering this.

Russian targets are mostly static. They consist of command-and-control facilities and armored vehicles positioned in bunkered fighting positions in and around the contested cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. MLRS would be able to destroy Russian targets methodically, one at a time. Such a campaign could slowly eliminate Russian static targets and force the fight to devolve into a dismounted infantry campaign, a campaign the Ukrainian army can win.The only possible solution to this new Russian assault is to counter it with standoff attacks from outside the battle zone using U.S.- and NATO-supplied long-range weapons. The U.S. Army has several battalions of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems on hand, which have much greater range and accuracy than the unguided "Grad" rocket launchers Kiev has now. Simply put, an MLRS launcher is a large rectangular box containing 12 long-range rockets sitting atop a tank-like vehicle. The rocket launcher can be moved quickly about the battlefield and fired in seconds, making it difficult to locate and strike. Each rocket can range over 40 miles and has a precision warhead that is capable of hitting point targets, like tanks and artillery pieces.

Training the Ukrainians to operate the MLRS would take time. But the system is relatively simple to employ and shoot. The fire control is automated, using on-board computers and navigation systems. The rockets are loaded in sealed "pods" that can be easily stored, transported and loaded.

Recall that it was massed batteries of MLRS-the Iraqis called their barrages "steel rain"-that were principally responsible for paralyzing and then obliterating Saddam 's artillery during Desert Storm in 1991. MLRS are also found in the arsenals of several NATO allies. Perhaps a collective aid program that donates the system to Kiev from many sources would send the signal to Mr. Putin that he faces a coalition rather than a single state.

Would just one weapons system be decisive? Probably not. But it seems unlikely that Mr. Putin could stand significant losses in his precious armored forces for long. Given Russia's flagging economy, it is unlikely that he would throw the dice and escalate the conflict with a full-scale invasion of western Ukraine. A more likely outcome would be a realization by the Russians that a bloody standoff wouldn't be in their best interests. At that point a real cease-fire might become more attractive.

No material support of the Ukrainian military will work unless the U.S. and NATO begin to send the right weapons and training cadres now. Delay means defeat, should the fighting break out in earnest. But immediate action using the best options available at this late date might well preserve the sovereignty of a friendly state and turn back a tyrant who threatens Europe.

Robert H. Scales, The Wall Street Journal

 
 
 
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