During its daily briefings on the war in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) provides updates on how much foreign weaponry its troops destroyed in the past 24 hours.
Normally, the country of origin, type and specifications of each weapon are noted. Videos and transcripts of the briefings are published on the Russian MoD Telegram channel.
Polygraph.info collected the data from the briefings for the month of October to check total number of U.S.-provided HIMARS rockets and launchers the ministry “destroyed.” (The total does not include rockets reported as “intercepted.”)
The U.S.-provided HIMARS has been widely credited as a game changer in the war, providing Ukraine with the ability to strike ammo and fuel depots behind Russian lines. Since the HIMARS units arrived, Ukraine forces have recaptured big swaths of territory.
As we checked Russia’s accounting, something seemed amiss.
Based on 31 briefings reviewed, the defense ministry claimed that at least 600 HIMARS rockets, six HIMARS launchers, and three ammunition depots with HIMARS rockets were destroyed.
We’re judging that total as unsubstantiated for the reasons below, plus the fact that the ministry did not offer photographs of debris or any other forensic evidence to support its various counts.
Polygraph.info asked Washington, D.C., think-tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) to assess the count of HIMARS destruction claimed by the ministry. The institute has been scrupulously monitoring the war and filing reports almost daily. The ISW’s Russia analyst Karolina Hird responded:
“ISW cannot confirm specific counts of Ukrainian equipment destroyed by Russian forces. However, the Russian MoD does not typically provide visual evidence to corroborate these claims, and it is highly likely that the presented numbers are part of a larger effort on the part of the Russian MoD to overstate Ukrainian losses. The Russian MoD is likely falsifying data on Ukrainian losses in order to over-exaggerate Russian capabilities and present Ukrainian capabilities as increasingly degraded to damage morale.”
The military blog Oryx also has been fly-specking arms and materiel losses for both Ukraine and Russia. In an October 28 report headlined, “Lost in Lies: Keeping Track of Russian Propaganda Claims,” the site noted numerous discrepancies. Oryx wrote:
“Arguably the most amusing of Russia's claims is the amount of HIMARS it claims to have neutralized. Despite the fact that Ukraine only received 16 HIMARS by the 1st of October 2022, Russia miraculously claims the destruction of 19 HIMARS and the capture of another by that date.”
“To provide evidence of the destruction of two HIMARS, the Russian MoD released footage of a precision missile strike against the second floor of a three-story office building, a rather unconvincing hiding place for truck-based rocket launchers.”
In an overall assessment of Ukraine’s equipment losses published October 29, Oryx went further:
“With Russia meanwhile outgunned and outranged on most fronts, the biggest threat to the operations of Ukrainian HIMARS, M270 and Western-donated tube artillery does not appear to be the destruction by Russian counter-battery fire or loitering munitions, but rather a lack of ammunition and barrel wear as a result of continued operations…”
“And despite claiming the destruction of 20 HIMARS launchers, Russia has brought forward no evidence that supports the destruction of even a single HIMARS.”
A Pentagon fact sheet from October 28 says that the United States has provided Ukraine with 38 HIMARS systems, but it does not mention the number of rockets sent to Ukraine.
Russia’s claims about HIMARS prior to October 1 have been debunked by fact-checkers and ridiculed on social media. In August, Popular Mechanics magazine said the Russian claim that it had “hacked” into HIMARS rocket launchers system was most likely “a big fat lie.”
“HIMARS does use an internal computer system, but it is unlikely it broadcasts signals detectable by Russian forces at range. The likelihood Russian forces have hacked HIMARS is right around zero.”
The article also explained why HIMARS launchers and rockets are not an easy target for the Russians to destroy:
“Could Russian counter-battery radars help destroy HIMARS systems? Absolutely. Counter-battery radars like the Zoopark-1 can detect six 13-foot-long rockets soaring into Russian-held territory. HIMARS is a wily target, however: the M142’s truck chassis, the use of GPS to quickly lay in a HIMARS firing position, and Ukraine’s excellent network of paved roads mean that a HIMARS truck can quickly ‘shoot and scoot’ before Russian artillery can rain down on its position.”
The Ukrainians also faked the Russians out. In a fact check, Newsweek reported that:
“According to The Washington Post, Ukrainian forces have tricked their Russian opponents into attacking several decoy HIMARS, which are largely made of wood.”
Sure enough. The Post said:
“After a few weeks in the field, the decoys drew at least 10 [Russian] Kalibr cruise missiles, an initial success that led Ukraine to expand the production of the replicas for broader use, said the senior Ukrainian official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters.”
On October 8, The Wall Street Journal reported from Ukraine about how HIMARS operators work in a stealthy fashion, casting more doubt on the Russian claims.
“The supply chain for Himars units consists of factory-packaged rocket pods stashed at pickup points in the nearby countryside and usually hidden by foliage. A cargo truck deposits the camouflage-green pods – each a little bigger than a single bed – at a string of designated locations, not unlike a commercial delivery route.
“Himars teams drive to the ammo drop spots, where a waiting three-man loading team removes spent pods and swaps in full ones within five minutes, using a crane integrated into the vehicle....
“...Russian forces in Ukraine are lobbing dozens of shells per acre to hit one objective. Himars can do the job with one rocket carrying a 200-pound explosive warhead. Each Ukrainian Himars carries one six-rocket pod that can effectively land the punch of more than 100,000 lbs. of traditional artillery.”