U.K. seeks U.S. approval to send rocket systems to Ukraine

Last updated on July 4, 2022

The United Kingdom is asking the U.S. to sign off on a plan to send advanced, medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine within a few weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter and a document outlining the proposal, a move that follows President Joe Biden’s announcement that he’s sending similar weapons.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will speak Thursday morning about the transfer of the U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, the person familiar with the schedule said. The U.S. must officially approve the move due to export regulations, though the Biden administration is near certain to give the green light.

The person asked for anonymity in order to speak freely about sensitive discussions. The National Security Council and the British Embassy in the U.S did not respond to requests for comment. The State Department declined to comment.

The M270 can strike targets roughly 50 miles away. The range of the rockets has been a sticking point in discussions over the past few weeks, as Ukrainian officials have clamored for the weapons as their troops in the East have endured heavy Russian artillery barrages. Western officials have worried that providing Kyiv with rockets that could strike inside Russian territory could provoke President Vladimir Putin into escalating the conflict, including using chemical or even nuclear weapons.

The news comes a day after the Biden administration announced that it had decided to send the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and munitions with a range of 48 miles to Kyiv. The HIMARS is a mobile rocket launcher that can strike targets from 40 to 300 miles away, depending on what type of rocket it fires. The administration ultimately opted to send the shorter-range munitions.

Another person familiar with the discussions between the U.S. and Ukraine told POLITICO this week that one factor that weighed into the Biden administration’s decision to send the more modern HIMARS to Ukraine instead of the MLRS was a desire to lead by example and push allies to send their own MLRS to Ukraine. The U.K. would be the first country to send the U.S.-made MLRS.

The HIMARS and MLRS provide similar capabilities and ranges, but the HIMARS is a lighter version that moves on a wheeled chassis. The MLRS moves on tracks, meaning it doesn’t move as quickly as the HIMARS, which can reach speeds of over 50 miles per hour, giving the Ukrainians the ability to fire and flee before Russian drones can spot them. The HIMARS can fire six rockets at a time, while MLRS can launch 12.

Fourteen countries from Finland to South Korea field versions of the U.S.-made MLRS, and the list of operators aligns with countries that have attended two recent high-level meetings dedicated to finding ways to further arm Ukraine, the latest of which happened on May 23. The Ukraine Defense Contact Group is scheduled to meet again in Brussels on June 15.

Only the U.S., Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Romania operate the HIMARS, making it a relatively rare asset that places Ukraine in a small club. Poland and Australia have each ordered 20 HIMARS in recent years but have not yet received them.