Marines with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, drive an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System onto a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy during a loading exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 7, 2023.

Marines with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, drive an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System onto a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy during a loading exercise at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Calif., Feb. 7, 2023. (Cameron Hermanet/U.S. Marine Corps)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials say they require coordinates provided or confirmed by the United States and its allies for the vast majority of strikes using its advanced U.S.-provided rocket systems, a previously undisclosed practice that reveals a deeper and more operationally active role for the Pentagon in the war.

The disclosure, confirmed by three senior Ukrainian officials and a senior U.S. official, comes after months of Kyiv's forces pounding Russian targets — including headquarters, ammunition depots and barracks — on Ukrainian soil with the U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and other similar precision-guided weapons such as the M270 multiple-launch rocket system.

One senior Ukrainian official said Ukrainian forces almost never launch the advanced weapons without specific coordinates provided by U.S. military personnel from a base elsewhere in Europe. Ukrainian officials say this process should give Washington confidence about providing Kyiv with longer-range weapons.

A senior U.S. official — who like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue — acknowledged the key American role in the campaign and said that the targeting assistance served to ensure accuracy and conserve limited stores of ammunition for maximum effectiveness. The official said that Ukraine does not seek approval from the United States on what to strike and routinely targets Russian forces on their own with other weapons. The U.S. provides coordinates and precise targeting information solely in an advisory role, the official said.

The GPS-guided strikes have driven Moscow's forces back on the battlefield and been celebrated as a key factor in Kyiv's underdog attempt to stave off the nearly year-old Russian assault. When President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the White House in December, he gave President Joe Biden a military medal that had been approved for meritorious service by the commander of a Ukrainian HIMARS unit.

The issue is sensitive for the U.S. government, which has cast itself as a nonbelligerent friend to the government in Kyiv as it fights for its sovereignty and survival. The Kremlin has countered by repeatedly accusing the United States and its NATO allies of fighting a proxy war in Ukraine.

Senior Pentagon officials declined for days to answer questions about whether and how they provide coordinates for the strikes, citing concerns about operational security. They instead provided a statement highlighting the limitations of American involvement.

"We have long acknowledged that we share intelligence with Ukraine to assist them in defending their country against Russian aggression, and we have optimized over time how we share information to be able to support their requests and their targeting processes at improved speed and scale," Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said in the statement. "The Ukrainians are responsible for finding targets, prioritizing them and then ultimately deciding which ones to engage. The U.S. does not approve targets, nor are we involved in the selection or engagement of targets."

The senior Ukrainian official described the targeting process, generally: Ukrainian military personnel identify targets they want to hit, and in which location, and that information is then sent up to senior commanders, who then relay the request to U.S. partners for more accurate coordinates. The Americans do not always provide the requested coordinates, the official said, in which case the Ukrainian troops do not fire.

Ukraine could carry out strikes without U.S. help but because Kyiv doesn't want to waste valuable ammunition and miss, it usually chooses not to strike without U.S. confirmation, the official said, adding that there are no complaints about the process.

For months now, the Ukrainian government has been lobbying Washington for longer-range precision weapons.

Kyiv currently possesses HIMARS launchers and a similar weapon, the M270 multiple-launch rocket system, each of which fire a U.S.-made rocket that can travel up to 50 miles.

Ukrainian officials also have sought the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, a munition that can be fired from the same launcher and travel up to 185 miles. Biden administration officials have declined to provide that weapon, which is in limited supply and seen by senior U.S. officials as an escalation that could provoke Russia and drag the United States directly into the war.

Kyiv has pledged that it would not use the longer-range missile to strike across the border inside Russia.

The senior Ukrainian official contended that the Ukrainian military would face the same limitations it does now with conventional HIMARS rounds if they received ATACMS, with Ukraine still dependent on U.S. targeting coordinates.

"You're controlling every shot anyway, so when you say, 'We're afraid that you're going to use it for some other purposes,' well, we can't do it even if we want to," the senior official said.

The senior U.S. official disputed the characterization. It is "not true," the U.S. official said, that "Ukrainians run targets by us for approval."

Ukrainian military officials have said that Russian forces have moved back their ammunition stocks out of HIMARS range, which has led to a steep decline in the daily bombardment of Ukrainian cities and soldiers but also reduced Kyiv's ability to target Moscow's arsenal. With ATACMS, the Ukrainians would likely target Russian military installations in Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed illegally in 2014.

The United States also recently approved the purchase and delivery of another GPS-guided munition, the ground-launched, small-diameter bomb, or GLSDB, that can travel more than 90 miles and be launched from HIMARS and similar launchers. The round was initially designed to be fired from aircraft, but has been repurposed.

The head of the Ukrainian military's missile forces and artillery training, Maj. Gen. Andriy Malinovsky, told The Washington Post in an interview in October that Ukraine's Western allies had confirmed coordinates for targets ahead of the Kharkiv counteroffensive.

The partners had worked out a process, he said, with Ukraine receiving precise coordinates to ensure they wouldn't miss their mark with multiple-launch rocket artillery systems as the rapid counteroffensive caught Russian forces unprepared. The targeting information also provided a workaround for when Russian signal-jamming prevented aerial drone reconnaissance on the battlefield, Malinovsky said.

"According to our maps and software, a point will have one set of coordinates," Malinovsky said. "But when we give this target to partners for analysis, the coordinates are different. Why? Because the Americans and NATO countries have access to military satellites."

"We're all basically always online," he added. "They immediately get us the coordinates and we then fire the MLRS right away."

A third Ukrainian official confirmed that targeting all goes through an American installation on NATO soil and described the process as "very fast." The Washington Post is withholding the name of the base at the request of U.S. officials who cited security concerns.

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