As we found out, off the record, delivery of the first Polish M142 HIMARS systems is scheduled to happen next week. Several launchers would be airlifted to Poland. The remaining ones are expected to be handed off to the Polish Armed Forces by the end of this year. HIMARS is going to become the first Polish rocket artillery system capable of conducting precision strikes at a distance of up to 300 kilometres.
The Americans consider airlifting the HIMARS systems to be a standard operating procedure. The wheeled M142 HIMARS is a high mobility system - also strategically - hence its name: "HIgh Mobility Artillery Rocket System". C-17 Globemaster III airlifters are usually employed in this role. The Globemaster can easily carry 2 launchers, plus munitions and support equipment. A single HIMARS can also be carried by the C-130J Super Hercules, while more launchers could be transported with the use of the C-5M Galaxy.
Back in 2019, Poland procured 20 HIMARS launchers, AFATDS fire control system, Humvee support vehicles, plus munitions: 270 GMLRS rockets, and 30 tactical ATACMS missiles. The deal, worth USD 414 million, was concluded in 2019 and underwent implementation without an offset. Back in 2018, a procurement process regarding 56 launchers and 1,800 guided rockets had been concluded without success - the process involved the Polish companies, with Lockheed Martin acting as the industrial partner.
After the full-scale war broke out in Ukraine, the Polish Ministry of Defence has decided to gradually expand the procurement plans, when it comes to rocket artillery. Back in 2022, a framework agreement was signed on the acquisition of 288 South Korean K239 Chunmoo launchers. 218 of these, along with several thousand rocket artillery rounds, are covered by the first performance contract, assuming that deliveries would happen in 2027, with a value of USD 3.55 bn. Recently Poland also received approval for delivery of 486 HIMARS launchers, and almost 10 thousand rockets. Both Chunmoo, and the second lot of HIMARS, would be integrated on the Polish Jelcz trucks, and within the Topaz fire control system.
Head of the Polish Ministry of Defence, Mariusz Błaszczak, during the visit he made to the US, was discussing the options of co-manufacturing the elements of the second lot HIMARS systems in Poland. HIMARS is being used in combat in Ukraine, and the reported lethality has created increased market demand. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, is currently increasing its manufacturing output, to meet that demand.
GMLRS Missiles constitute the primary armament of the HIMARS system (six per single launch container). Those missiles feature a guidance system fusing GPS and INS. The use of the INS system makes it possible to continue the strike, should the GPS signal be jammed (which the Russians have proven to be more and more effective at in Ukraine). That, unfortunately, diminishes the accuracy.
Standard GMLRS rounds have a range of 85 kilometers. Nonetheless, the USA is working on the new GMLRS-ER variant, offering an extended range of up to 150-200 kilometers. These missiles would be delivered in the second batch of the Polish HIMARS order. The standard GMLRS munitions are also undergoing modifications, by the use of non-sensitive explosives. This is relevant in a scenario when the enemy succeeds in hitting the container, as the use of such explosives diminishes the risk of collateral damage.
HIMARS can also launch the ATACMS tactical missiles - 1 per launch container. Soon, a more modern PrSM (2 per container) missile would join them, offering a range of 500 kilometres, or even more in the future. Both GMLRS and PrSM are expected to be modified in the future - and the scope of modifications also covers new warheads. M720A1/A2 launchers utilize an identical set of projectiles, but they carry 2, not 1 launch container.
Jakub Palowski contributed to this report.