US Army photo
- Ukraine is reportedly slated to receive a US-made Patriot missile defense battery.
- The Patriot is the main air defense system that the US has in its arsenal.
- Its delivery will make new headaches for Russia, which continues to launch missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities.
As Russian forces continue to fire missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities, the US appears to be getting ready to ramp up security assistance in a way that would allow Kyiv to better defend itself against threats from raining down from above.
The US is poised to send Ukraine a Patriot missile defense battery that is already stationed overseas. Approval for this action — which is expected soon — requires Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to sign off before it would then hed to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The MIM-104 Patriot is a highly mobile, truck-mountain surface-to-air missile system that costs about $1 billion. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Defense Project, it is the primary air and missile defense system that the US has in its arsenal. As the most advanced US air defense system, it can engage aircraft, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and even drones and loitering munitions.
A Patriot battery typically consists of eight launchers armed with four interceptor missiles and support systems like a power vehicle, a radar set, and a control station. An interceptor missile can fly up and eliminate targets at altitudes up to nearly 80,000 feet. These systems have been deployed across Europe and the Middle East.
Patriot missile defense system at Schwesing military airport in Germany on March 17, 2022.
Photo by Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images
The system was originally designed by Raytheon in the 1960s and first introduced to the battlefield during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. It has since been used by foreign militaries like Israel — which deployed the system to shoot down Hamas drones and a Syrian jet — and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which used the system against Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen’s civil war.
CNN, citing two US officials and senior Biden administration officials, first reported on the anticipated delivery, which would bolster Ukraine’s air defense amid an ongoing cycle of Russian attacks against Ukrainian cities that are intended to spread terror and fear, as well as disable critical civilian infrastructure.
A NATO Patriot air defense missile system stands at Slovakia’s Sliac air base on April 27, 2022.
Photo by Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images
For over two months, Russian forces have launched a deadly onslaught of missile and drone barrages targeting Ukrainian cities and the country’s civil infrastructure — often wreaking havoc on its energy grid. The US and its allies, in response, have prioritized sending military hardware to Ukraine that will allow the country to better defend its airspace.
Germany, for example, sent four IRIS-T SLM air defense systems, NATO announced it would send signal-jammers to counter deadly Iranian-made suicide drones, and the US delivered National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), air defense systems which provide short- to medium-range protection and are used to defend Washington, DC.
A member of the US Air Force looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on February 20, 2020.
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
The delivery of a Patriot battery would arm Ukraine with its most advanced air-defense capabilities yet to use on the battlefield at a time when Russia is already struggling with a dwindling stockpile of precision-guided missiles that it is expending faster than it can replenish.
US officials have said that Russia is burning through its munitions stockpiles faster than the country can replace them. A top UK envoy said last week that Moscow is trying to secure “hundreds” of ballistic missiles from Iran in exchange for “unprecedented” military support. It is unclear where those discussions stand.
Patriot missiles would provide defenses against missiles, freeing up other Ukrainian air defense assets to focus on knocking out incoming drones, specifically the explosive suicide drones Russia purchased from Iran. Ukraine’s defense ministry said Wednesday that it shot down 13 of 13 inbound drones, which were identified as Shahed-136s and Shahed-131s.
The Patriot air and missile defense system “has demonstrated its ability to shoot down cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles, and loitering munitions, and I think that those are the types of roles that it would be engaged in,” Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russia expert at the Center for Naval Analyses and former CIA military analyst, told Insider, adding that the Patriot “would offer capability that the Ukrainians do not have right now.”
Edmonds said the systems could be used to defend Ukraine’s critical infrastructure from Russian attacks, explaining that “given Russia’s strategy right now of hitting critical infrastructure in order to undermine … the Ukrainian will to resist — any system like this is going to help.”
Mick Ryan, a strategist and retired Australian Defense Force major general said on social media that sending Patriot missiles to Ukraine would be “a significant and positive step in assisting #Ukraine defend itself against the Russian missile and drone attacks.”
Russian officials have previously warned NATO against sending Patriots to Ukraine. Although the US is expected to provide Patriot missiles to Ukraine, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department would confirm the reported delivery at their respective press briefings on Tuesday.
“We have been very clear that the United States will continue to prioritize sending air defense systems to Ukraine to help our Ukrainian partners defend themselves from the brutal Russian aggression that we’ve seen for the better part of a year now,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
“I don’t have anything to preview or announce,” he continued, “but our commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense capabilities, including through the provision of air defense systems, is something we are committed to.”
Ukraine has not acknowledged a pending delivery either, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Ukraine is “constantly strengthening our air defense and anti-drone defense.”
“We are doing everything to get more modern and more powerful systems for Ukraine,” he said, adding that “this week we have made important progress on the air defense issue.”