The US seems to have finally conceded to Ukraine’s long-drawn demand for Patriot missile defense systems. The Biden administration is reportedly planning to approve the ‘deadly’ systems for Kyiv that could end Russian air dominance in the region.
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Two US officials and a senior administration official told CNN that the plans had entered their final stages and could be announced this week. However, the plan worked out by the Pentagon would have to be approved first by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and then finally by President Joe Biden.
A typical Patriot battery contains a radar system that detects and tracks targets, computers, power-producing apparatus, an engagement control station, and up to eight launchers, each containing four ready-to-fire missiles. At this point, it is unclear how many missile launchers will be sent.
According to officials cited by CNN, the Patriots are anticipated to ship quickly after the blueprints are completed in the upcoming days, after which Ukrainians will be trained to use them at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Ukrainian troops have already been trained on an array of western military equipment in Germany.
If finalized, US plans would bolster Ukrainian defenses at a time when Russia is bombarding its energy infrastructure and has virtually left the country in the dark amid harsh winter.
The timing of a US decision could also be significant. Iran is now finally poised to send its ballistic missiles to Russia by limiting their range to avert any UNSC violations.
The air defense systems used by Ukraine, including the Soviet-era S-300 and the Western NASAMS, IRIS-T, and Hawk, offer good protection against cruise missiles that Russia has overwhelmingly employed.
However, the Patriot missile defense has a somewhat superior track record of shooting down ballistic missiles than drones and slow-moving cruise missiles. Ukraine may be able to permanently reduce Russia’s ability to attack Ukrainian infrastructure by employing Patriot systems.
Patriot systems deployed in large numbers in Ukraine might easily thwart any ballistic missiles Russia might acquire from Iran to attack Ukrainian infrastructure.
It is pertinent to note that Russian ballistic missiles like the Iskander maneuver prevent interception. However, the Iranian-origin missiles like the 300-kilometer range Fateh-110 and the 700-kilometer range Zolfaghar follow a basic ballistic trajectory and would be an easy game for the Patriot interceptor, as noted by EurAsian Times in an analysis.
Iran’s willingness to send these missiles to Russia could likely be why the US finally overcame its reluctance to supply the system to Ukraine.
There have been overarching fears among NATO members and operators of Patriot missile defense that such a transfer could lead to an unwarranted escalation with Russia.
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An effective surface-to-air missile system, the M-104 Patriot, can identify, track, and shoot down enemy drones, missiles, and aircraft. In addition to the THAAD, it is the central air defense missile system operated by the American Army and many NATO partners.
Modern technology makes up the Patriot system, such as single PESA/AESA radar tracking multiple targets while directing interceptor missiles at a hostile target. Two radars are often used in air defense systems, one for tracking and the other for guiding missiles.
The system’s maximum range is 70 kilometers. The PAC-2 variant can intercept targets up to a 20-kilometer altitude and the PAC-3 up to a 40-kilometer altitude.
The Patriot missile systems use a single type of missile to destroy enemy targets, in contrast to Russian missile systems like the S-300 or S-400, which employ many classes of missiles, each tailored to combat a particular type of target.
Russia has widely deployed fighters like the Su-30, Su-35, MiG-31, and long-range air-to-air missiles (AAM) comprising the R-37 and R-77, according to a report by think tank RUSI released in November.
The report notes that the advantage enjoyed by the Russian Aerospace Forces forced the Ukrainians to adopt a new and inventive strategy. They used low-level, “aggressive” flight to sneak up on their enemies. Due to this, Russian aircraft were forced to fly at low altitudes, putting them in Ukrainian MANPADS’ line of sight.
However, with the deployment of Patriot missile defense, it would become even easier for the Ukrainians to combat fire from Russian warplanes. It is one of the most sophisticated multi-mission systems developed in the US for intercepting fixed-wing aircraft, ballistic, or cruise missiles.
It is a defensive system that would cause Russian pilots to “think twice” before attacking Ukrainian forces, according to Tom Karako, a senior scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This was also evident in Dymtry Kuleba’s plea with the United States over a phone call with Secretary Antony Blinken and a subsequent tweet.
“I thanked the US for its crucial defense assistance and emphasized that deliveries of air defense systems to Ukraine need to be sped up. NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) has proved its efficiency already. I am also convinced that the time for ‘Patriots’ has come,” Kuleba said on Twitter.
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