Kyiv is being pummeled daily by Russian drones and missiles. It’s time to upgrade Ukraine’s air defense capability. To that end, reports reveal the US plans to provide Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target or “Patriot” (PAC-3) missile batteries to Ukraine’s beleaguered forces as early as this week. Patriot missiles have been on Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wish list for some time, and now the Biden administration is ready to deliver.
A Constant Bombardment
The increased frequency and devastating impact of the Kremlin’s aerial bombardment of Ukraine’s power grids, electrical generating plants, and other infrastructure have increased and are eclipsing Kyiv’s air defense systems. “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country’s air defense shot down ‘all 13’ drones Russian forces used in a barrage targeting Kyiv on Wednesday,” Mike Brest wrote in the Washington Examiner. But the number shot down is just a percentage of those launched by the Russian invaders. Reports from Ukraine’s ground forces describe the air defense struggle. Of the incoming missiles and Iranian-manufactured drones, only 24% of the missiles and 64% of the unmanned aerial vehicles were destroyed. The remainder hit their targets.
In a teleconference with the Group of Seven (G-7) major global industrial powers, President Zelensky made his plea for more advanced weaponry. According to the Associated Press:
“In his address to the G-7, Zelensky echoed his prime minister’s Sunday appeal for long-range missiles, modern tanks, artillery and missile batteries and other high-tech air defense systems to counter Russian attacks that have knocked out electricity and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians.”
Reports from Washington, DC, are that President Zelensky will get his wish list filled. “The United States is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, a decision that could be announced as soon as this week, three US officials told Reuters on Tuesday,” Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart writing for Reuters, reported. With a decision to provide the PAC-3 air defense system, the US will provide Kyiv’s ground forces with the significantly enhanced capability to acquire, identify, engage, and destroy incoming Russian missiles.
Patriot Missiles on the Way
With a radar range for incoming missiles of 62 miles, the latest PAC-3 with improved performance against missiles can engage targets at an altitude of roughly 63,000 feet at a distance of 25 miles. A single PAC-3 battery can engage as many as eight targets at one time and can be equipped with as many as 16 Patriot missiles per launcher. Additionally, the PAC-3 air defense system is effective against drones, cruise missiles, and tactical, short-range missiles.
A US decision to send Zelensky the Patriot system cannot come too soon for Ukrainians. The merciless air attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure promise to be more catastrophic as the harsh winter weather closes in on civilian communities. “As temperatures drop below freezing around the country, there are fears Moscow – struggling to win the war it started – is ‘weaponising winter’. And nowhere is it clearer what that might look like than at the towns along the front line in the east,” Abdujalil Abdurasulov wrote for BBC News.
Providing PAC-3 air defense systems is long overdue but reflects the incrementalism with which the Biden administration treats the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. Piecemealing the supply of military weapons and equipment while increasing sophistication and effectiveness over time guarantees a protracted war in Ukraine. Though the US, NATO, and European allies provide large amounts of critically needed weapons and equipment to Ukraine, fulfilling Kyiv’s desperate requests only happens when Russian attacks make the situation dire. There doesn’t seem to be an appetite for getting out in front of need.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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