Ukraine fired ATACMS missiles against Russian forces for the first time on Tuesday, and claimed to have destroyed nine helicopters and damaged runways in strikes well behind the front lines, in the Luhansk Oblast and in Berdyansk, a city on the Azov Sea in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
Those damage claims have yet to be confirmed. This video claims to show the missiles being fired:
A video of the launches of three MGM-140A ATACMS Block 1 missiles by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, presumably at the Berdyansk Airport on Tuesday night. pic.twitter.com/wG6jxnaJ2U— Status-6 (Military & Conflict News) (@Archer83Able) October 18, 2023
In September, US officials signaled that the Pentagon would not provide the advanced weapon system to Ukraine. Days later, that stance was reversed, as the Wall Street Journal reported that President Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky his forces would receive a small number of missiles in the following weeks, with the possibility of more to follow.
At the time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was dismissive of the development, telling reporters, "All this can in no way affect the essence of the [special military operation] and its outcome. There is no panacea and no one type of weapon that can change the balance of power on the battlefield."
However, on Wednesday, Russia's US ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, struck a different tone: "The consequences of this step, which was deliberately hidden from the public, will be of the most serious nature."
ATACMS stands for Army Tactical Missile Systems, and refers to a specific surface-to-surface missile that can be fired from an M142 HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The Journal reports that the missiles furnished to Ukraine have a roughly 100-mile range, and are an anti-personnel variant called APAM that deploy cluster munitions.
The Ukrainian military said that on Tuesday it had "made well-aimed strikes on enemy airfields and helicopters near the temporarily occupied Luhansk and Berdyansk.” In what was called "Operation Dragonfly," Ukraine claimed to have destroyed nine Russian helicopters, an ammunition depot and an anti-aircraft weapon, while damaging runways. A Ukrainian Air Force spokesman said the longer reach of the ATACMS missiles will force Russia to base its helicopters farther from the front lines, degrading their usefulness.
Videos circulated on social media that purportedly show the aftermath of the ATACMS strikes on a Russian airfield in Berdyansk:
The Biden White House had long resisted providing ATACMS to Ukraine, for fear they would be used to strike Russian territory and risk triggering war between Russia and the United States. Those concerns were so great that HIMARS rocket launchers provided to Ukraine were reconfigured to be incapable of firing ATACMS missiles if Ukraine managed to find a different acquisition channel.
Ukraine assured the US government that it would only use the missiles in Russia-captured territory. In a video message after the inaugural ATACMS strikes, Zelensky referred to his government's proimes, saying, "Today I am especially grateful to the United States. Our agreements with President Biden are being implemented. And they are being implemented very accurately – ATACMS have proven themselves."
In late September, the New York Times reported that, for all the hype about Ukraine's 2023 counteroffensive, Russia actually controlled about 200 square miles more territory than it did on January 1.