CNN reported Tuesday that the US has secretly provided Ukraine with Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), munitions that typically have a range of about 190 miles and can be fired from the HIMARS rocket systems.
US officials told The New York Times that the ATACMS the US has provided are armed with cluster bombs, a widely banned munition that’s notorious for killing civilians due to its indiscriminate nature. Cluster bombs spread small submunitions over large areas and can leave duds behind that civilians can come across years after the conflict.
While most ATACMS have a range of 190 miles, the Times report said that the version the US secretly provided Ukraine has a shorter range than the Storm Shadow missiles that the British have given Kyiv, which can hit targets up to 155 miles away.
The US officials said Ukraine has already used the ATACMS in strikes on two airfields in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine on Tuesday. Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament, also said the ATACMS were already in use.
“ATACMS is already with us. The airfield in Berdyansk with enemy equipment was hit by them. Thanks to our partners!” Goncharenko wrote on X. Berdyansk is a southern city in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia oblast. Ukrainian officials also said they struck an airfield in Luhansk and claimed they destroyed nine helicopters in the two attacks, which has not been confirmed by the Russian side.
It’s not clear when the US delivered ATACMS to Ukraine. After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington in September, media reports said President Biden decided to arm Ukraine with a cluster bomb version of ATACMS, but the Pentagon did not list the missiles in any recent weapons packages.
Ukraine had been requesting ATACMS from the US throughout the conflict. The administration was initially hesitant over concerns of escalation. The Times report said US officials long believed “the use of ATACMS could cross one of the ‘red lines’ that would lead Russia to consider using a tactical nuclear weapon.” But escalation concerns have waned despite Russia’s many warnings against providing the missiles.