US may destroy several hundred M39 ATACMS instead of giving them to Ukraine
As of October 2023, US Army had approximately 1,100 M39 and M39A1 ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles with cluster warheads. Some or several hundred of these missiles may simply be disposed of due to the exhaustion of the normative resource.
Defense Express writes about it.
The initial source of information about the planned disposal of several hundred ATACMS missiles is a commentary for Newsweek by Daniel Rice. “There are various types of ATACMS with different ranges and warheads. Hundreds of Lockheed Martin-made M39 and M39A1 missiles that are "excellent legal, precision-guided cluster weapons" are scheduled for destruction at "significant" expense to American taxpayers,” said Daniel Rice, a former special adviser to Ukraine's lead commander, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
“They could be shipped off to Ukraine and used "very effectively" against Moscow's forces”, he told Newsweek. “There are no concerns about the expiry date of this type of missile. They work. All weapons are eventually replaced by better, more lethal, more cost-effective weapons, but they could make all the difference for Ukraine's war effort. These M39 missiles add a range, accuracy and lethality that Ukraine does not have without this donation," he said.
The publication also quotes General Ben Hodges' comment that “A lot hinges on just how far past the expiry date a weapon is, but a missile could have even years of life left in it past this date. Not sending ATACMS based on shelf life is a political decision, rather than one concerned with safety,” he added.
In turn, Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), emphasized that “a given shelf-life is not always an accurate indicator of whether a missile is functional.” According to Hinz, the key part is keeping the motor of a solid-propellant rocket in good condition. This all depends on the manufacturing quality and the conditions under which the missiles are stored, as it is "not very forgiving when it comes to minor issues."
Longer-range MGM-140 ATACMS are still used by the U.S., presenting a different and more difficult political and military challenge, Rice said. But there are "tens of thousands" of outdated rockets of various types that Ukraine could fire from HIMARS waiting to be destroyed, he said, and the U.S. is also looking towards its new Precision Strike Missile to take the ATACMS' place.
At the same time, Rice emphasizes that instead of simply disposing of the ATACMS scheduled for decommissioning, it would be much more rational to give these missiles to the Ukrainian military for long-range strikes against Russian invaders, in particular, the Crimean Bridge.
Defense Express emphasizes that the fact that such a publication appeared is a "signal" that the United States has not yet decided on the possible transfer of additional ATACMS missiles to Ukraine.