The Ukrainian decoy HIMARS are made out of wood but are indistinguishable from an artillery battery through the lens of a Russian drone. Russian forces use drones to scope out potential missile targets, transmitting their locations to naval cruise missile carriers in the Black Sea. The decoys have reportedly attracted at least 10 Kalibr cruise missiles, which has led Ukraine to expand the production of the replicas.
The rocket system decoys are an important tactic for Ukraine to use against its bigger and better-equipped invading enemy.
The US-supplied HIMARS have been central to Ukraine’s defence because of its 50-mile firing range – double the 25-mile reach of the M777 Howitzer – underscoring why Russia is so determined to destroy them.
The HIMARS have been used to destroy Russian ammunition depots, supply lines and logistical hubs.
A senior Ukrainian official told the Washington Post: “When the UAVs see the battery, it’s like a VIP target.”
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Washington has shipped 16 HIMARS to Ukraine, while other Western allies, including Britain, have sent M270 rocket systems that have similar capabilities.
Last month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered his generals to prioritise the destruction of the long-range artillery systems after they a series of successful strikes crippling Russian supply lines.
He later claimed all US-provided HIMARS had been destroyed.
The Pentagon’s acting spokesman Todd Breasseale said: “We are aware of these latest claims by Minister Shoigu, and they are again patently false.
George Barros, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of War, said: “If the Russians think they hit a HIMARS, they will claim they hit a HIMARS.
“Russian forces very well be overstating their battle damage assessments after hitting HIMARS decoys.”
Western intelligence has suggested Russia’s stockpile of precision-guided missiles has been running low, with US export controls on microchips making it more difficult for Russia to replenish munitions.
Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, pointed out: “A Kalibr missile launched at a fake HIMARS target in a field is a missile that can’t be used against a Ukrainian city.”
With Ukraine able to use its HIMARS to strike deep behind the frontlines, another advantage of the decoys is they could force Russia to relocate ammunition dumps and control centres out of range.
Commenting on Ukraine’s HIMARS replicas, a Ukrainian official told the Washington Post his military had no choice but to resort to unconventional tactics in fending off a bigger adversary.
He said: “A small Soviet army cannot beat a big Soviet army. “We need to fight asymmetrically.”