Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries were on the list of air defense systems mentioned Wednesday by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs that could help Ukraine in its ongoing battle against Russia.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels about what the international Defense Contact Group is doing to improve Ukraine's air defenses in the wake of a deadly missile and drone barrage earlier this week, Army Gen. Mark Milley mentioned Patriot batteries are among a number of systems available worldwide, without saying if they would be provided, when or by whom.
Israel, which had a representative at the Defense Contact Group, far been very reluctant to supply advanced weaponry, including defensive systems, to Ukraine.
The Patriot systems would provide a highly capable upper-tier complement to the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, of which eight have been promised to Ukraine, with two of them expected to be delivered soon.
What Patriot can do that these other systems cannot, beyond providing a longer-range capability against traditional 'air breathing' threats such as fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and even drones, is supply Ukraine with the robust ability to protect key areas from ballistic missile assaults. Patriot, especially in its latter iterations, we designed to do this, especially against shorter-range ballistic missiles. While no air or missile defense system is anywhere near perfect, it would greatly reduce the damage Russia's missiles can do. The Patriot system has been absolutely critical in lessening the effectiveness of constant missile barrages by Houthi rebels in Yemen on key targets in Saudi Arabia, for instance.
While Moscow's stockpiles of standoff missile systems are thought to be dwindling, that could always change, especially now that Iran is supplying long-range suicide drones to Russia. Ballistic missiles could be next, which you can read all about here.
This news also comes just days after Biden said he would work to supply advanced air defense systems to Ukraine on a call with President Zelensky following the barrage on Russian cities.
Still, this doesn't mean the U.S. or anyone else (with U.S. approval) will end up supplying Patriot to Ukraine, and even doing so will take significant time to train operators and maintainers of the system.
“What Ukraine is asking for, and what we think can be provided, is an integrated air and missile defense system,” said Milley. “So that doesn't control all the airspace over Ukraine. But they're designed to control priority targets that Ukraine needs to protect.”
Milley said the goal is to provide Ukraine with a layered air defense system combing short-range, low-altitude systems, medium-range, medium-altitude, and long-range and high-altitude systems.
“It's a mix of all of these that deny the airspace to Russian aircraft, fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, and Russian missiles,” he said.
So far, Ukraine “has very effectively used their SA-6s and SA-8s, S-300s and SA-10s, 11s, etc.,” said Milley. “They've been very effective at denying Russian air superiority. And that, in turn, has denied the Russians the ability to conduct ground combined arms maneuver.”
The next step “by all the various countries that were at the conference today is chip in and help” Ukraine “rebuild and sustain an integrated air and missile defense system.”
Ukraine, he said, has asked for older systems, like the I-Hawk, an improved version of the short-to-medium-range, medium-altitude Hawk system first fielded in the 1960s. It has a larger, 163-pound blast-fragmentation warhead, a smaller and improved guidance package, and a new M112 rocket motor.
“It's an older system, but it's quite effective,” said Milley.
Hawk pales in comparison to NASAMS and IRST-T SLM, but it could be good as a supplement to Ukraine's soviet-era air defenses that are forward deployed in the field
The task now, he said, is to bring those systems together, get them deployed, and get Ukrainian troops trained on how to use them, “because each of these systems is different.”
And then they all need to be linked together with command, control and communication systems, with radars that can communicate with each other “so that they can acquire targets on the inbound flights.”
The effort, said Milley, is “quite complicated. From a technical standpoint, it is achievable. And that's what we're aiming at.”
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