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Taiwan’s military recently sent its budget request to the country’s lawmaking body, asking for money to buy 18 more highly mobile M142 HIMARS missile trucks, bringing the total number to 29. The budget request also asked for another 64 ATACMS long-range guided missiles that can be fired by the HIMARS, bringing the total number to 84. The military also asked for an additional 864 of the smaller GPS-guided rockets that are designed to be fired by the HIMARS.

If Taiwan’s legislators okay the request for the additional HIMARS units and missiles, it won’t be cheap. The new budget for these weapons alone would increase from 15.4 billion Taiwan dollars to 32.5 billion Taiwan dollars ($ 1.07 billion).

Armed with the huge ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) missile, the nimble HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) would be able to deliver large warheads up to 300 km away, with high precision. This means that Taiwan would be able to detonate deadly airburst warheads above Chinese troop formations landing on Taiwan’s frontline islands, if China ever launches an invasion of Taiwanese soil. Most importantly, these warheads can be delivered to the beaches of Taiwan’s frontline islands (only kilometers from China’s coastline) from the safety of Taiwan’s main island.

Taiwan’s military says one of the main reasons why it wants to buy the HIMARS is because it can be used to decimate Chinese amphibious assaults from the safety of Taiwan’s main island, thereby giving much-needed support for its frontline troops while reinforcements are rushed in from the main island. It would also be possible to station a few of these missile trucks on one or more of Taiwan’s frontline islands, from where these would be able to fire smaller short-range guided rockets at nearby targets.

While the smaller guided rockets are limited to a range of 70 km to 150 km (for the extended-range version), six of them can fit into one launch pod of the HIMARS. The ATACMS is a much larger and sophisticated missile with a range of 300 km, but only one of these can fit into a HIMARS launch pod.

The most likely strategy would be to base all the HIMARS trucks on Taiwan’s main island, from where they would launch their huge ATACMS long-range missiles in support of Taiwan’s frontline islands. Some of these missiles could also be fired at high-value targets in China’s coastal areas. Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the HIMARS, states that the launcher’s missiles can hit moving targets on land and on sea, while the system features “GPS connection with Air Mobility assets.”

Once most of these large missiles had been used up, the HIMARS can then quickly be reloaded with pods that can each fire up to six guided rockets with high precision. These would come in handy for hitting invasion forces accurately and from safe distances as they try to establish beachheads on Taiwan’s main island.

The value of the HIMARS system is that it can easily be hidden from initial jet and missile strikes, after which it can be quickly deployed all over Taiwan. At a top speed of 94 km per hour, it’s one of the fastest artillery units out there, and it’s designed to handle most off-road conditions with ease. Once in position, it can “shoot and scoot” very quickly, meaning that it can fire and move quickly before enemy artillery units can figure out where it fired from. Lockheed Martin says this nimbleness gives the HIMARS good survivability in a high-threat environment. 

The other major reason why the HIMARS is so valuable is the fact that it uses a sophisticated fire control system to quickly find its target and quickly fire its missiles with high accuracy

These capabilities make it far superior to antiquated rocket trucks like the BM-21 Grad, which is still used by some Russian units. Compared to the HIMARS, the Grad is slow-moving and bulky, and it’s very slow to configure and aim. In addition, once the Grad is finally ready to fire, it doesn’t fire very far and it only fires unguided rockets that are not very accurate. While traditional rocket trucks like the Grad are like a slow-moving man armed with a single-shot shotgun, the HIMARS is like a cross-country runner armed with an automatic sniper rifle loaded with guided bullets.

Image: U.S. Army

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