Estonia purchasing ATACMS as US presses on with replacement system

US HIMARS launcher on exercise in Estonia.
US HIMARS launcher on exercise in Estonia. Source: EDF /

Estonia is continuing to purchase MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles from the United States, even as that country is phasing out the system. ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Saturday.

ATACMS can be fired from both the tracked M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), and the wheeled M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), both of which have been deployed on exercise in Estonia; in the case of HIMARS this had already shot to prominence due to its effectiveness in Ukrainian hands against occupying Russian forces. Both systems are the subject of a procurement by the Center for Defense Investments (RKK).

The U.S. itself started to wrap up the ATACMS program back in 2007, AK reported (the system entered service in 1991 – ed.), and is to begin phasing out the use of the system this year; steps are being taken to supply ATACMS to Ukraine also, the Washington Post reports.

While ATACMS missiles themselves have not been used on exercise in Estonia to date, artillery personnel from the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) got their first taste of HIMARS firing back in spring, during large-scale rehearsals which involved U.S. personnel as well.

Since U.S. stockpiles are dwindling due to the discontinuation of ATACMS, none have yet been supplied to Ukraine; newer, long-range systems are under development, most notably the Precision Strike Missile (PSM), which, like ATACMS, is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Ukraine is in any case using non-ATACMS, shorter-range HIMARS munitions; based on its experience, Estonian aims to purchase systems with a range of 70km, and sometimes much more.

The Estonian state signed a deal with the U.S. to purchase HIMARS launchers, missiles and ancillaries through the course of the second half of 2022, with deliveries due in 2025; in any case this will include ATACMS stocks, totaling up to 18.

RKK Director Magnus Saar told AK that: "Our order specifically includes the M-57, the newest variant, with its range of up to 300 km."

"In the future, of course, we also plan to acquire this type of ammunition, but this is very much in the future and much hinges on whether the U.S. gives us permission to sell such ammunition," Saar went on, referring to ATACMS – as noted not supplied to Ukraine to date.

Supplying weaponry to Ukraine which originated in other countries requires the permission of those countries before it can go ahead – this happened early on in the current Ukraine war, when Estonia wished to send aging 105mm howitzers to the Ukrainians; this required both the permission of the artillery pieces' previous owners, Finland, and of its manufacturing nation, Germany (the howitzers were made in the former East Germany in fact).

As for the present-day need for longer-range missiles, EDF reservist Col. Hannes Toomsalu told AK that: "After a couple of months [of the supply of HIMARS to Ukraine], the Russians wised up, and they no longer bring their logistics and command and control centers, and other essential objects, into firing range."

The U.S. military has already tested PSM, which will have a maximum range of 500km. This will likely ultimately be ATACMS' replacement, AK reported.

Media speculation since the start of the invasion has had it that Ukraine has in fact used ATACMS or missiles of a similar performance.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' reporter Vahur Lauri.

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