NewsAnti-missiles to protect infrastructures with a range of more...

Anti-missiles to protect infrastructures with a range of more than 100 kilometers: these are the Patriots that Ukraine awaits from the United States


The roof of the gas station still shows the cracks from the last Russian attack, just a week ago, but the flickering of its neon lights stands out in the dark of Kostiantinivka night, with little more than a few light generators in a handful of houses. and shops. Inside, despite the hole in the floor left by a shelling, three women huddle in a corner to charge their mobile phones and sip their machine cappuccinos.

Like much of Ukraine, Kostiantinivka, in the Donetsk region, just twenty kilometers from the front line and a city that has become a supply point for villages around it, has suffered attacks on its critical infrastructure. that has left the city with almost no electricity in the dead of winter.

Now, after months of demanding formulas to “close the skies” of Ukraine to constant Russian air attacks, President Volodymyr Zelensky will return from his trip to Washington with a ready-made Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense battery, one of the most advanced systems in the world. world.

The Patriot battery and its munitions, which unlike other systems provided to Ukraine can intercept and shoot down Russia’s ballistic missiles and also hit targets much further away — between 40 and 160 kilometers, depending on the type of missile used — will be one of the most sophisticated western weapons that the allies have delivered to Ukraine. It is included in the new package of some 1.85 billion dollars in arms that Washington will supply to kyiv and which also contains mortars, additional ammunition for high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), grenade launchers and small arms, precision aerial munitions or armored

Russia has described the intention to deploy the Patriots as a “provocation” and has threatened Ukraine with launching itself against these anti-missile systems that it defines as “legitimate targets”. The Patriots are already deployed in 18 countries, including several from NATO, Israel or the forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen, and are considered one of the most coveted anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems on the market.

The dispatch of these modern mobile systems, which are generally designed to defend cities or critical infrastructures, had been one of the red lines that, until now, the Joe Biden Administration had set in its support for kyiv. They are very expensive: a single battery costs about $1 billion, and missiles can cost several million each—a missile for a Patriot battery is estimated to cost three times as much as one for the NASAMS surface-to-air missile system, from which Ukraine has two. They are also relatively rare.

However, the harsh air strikes in recent months against the Ukrainian energy and civilian infrastructure in the dead of winter, which are further deepening the human disaster in some parts of the country, and Russia’s rapprochement with Iran and the prospect that Tehran will supply ballistic missiles as well—in addition to the military drones that Russia already uses in swarms to attack critical infrastructure—have inclined the White House to change its mind.

No prospects for dialogue

All of this is added to the evidence that the war is dragging on since the perspectives of opening the path of dialogue do not materialize. Despite the harsh setbacks he has suffered on the battlefield, the terrible morale of his troops —confirmed by intelligence reports, prisoner testimonies and intercepted telephone calls— and the extremely high cost of the invasion and the sanctions, Putin is entrenched in keep the war going even though it has recognized that the situation, especially in the regions that Russia keeps occupied, is “extremely difficult.”

This Wednesday, coinciding with Zelensky’s visit to the United States, the head of the Kremlin has assured that there are no “financing restrictions” for the Russian Army, which is actually poorly equipped and, for the most part, lacks good training. especially the new mobilized that Putin is preparing to fuel a trickle of attacks that have a very high casualty rate. “The homeland, the Government, will give everything the army asks for. Everything,” Putin said.

The Patriot system can give the population a breather, although not in the short term. Ukraine has several models of air defense systems, but still has major shortcomings in missile defense, says Oleg Perlak, one of the commanders of the southern Ukrainian air force. “Patriot systems are very effective in neutralizing virtually any missile threat, although in the current situation it is just as important quality as quantity,” he asserts. “We need to close the skies and we need to do it now,” remarks the soldier.

Patriot missile launcher, deployed in the ARCTIC EDGE 2022 exercises, last March. US AIR FORCE (via REUTERS)

It is unlikely, however, that the Patriot battery will be an immediate decisive element in the war, says Mark F. Cancian, an international program adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US organization. A single anti-missile battery with up to eight launchers like the one Washington plans to send to kyiv would serve only to help protect one area of ​​Ukraine. Furthermore, the system is not designed to shoot down the swarms of Iranian drone bombs that Russia fires with relish. New and modern missile defense systems will not arrive in Ukraine before spring.

Ukraine also needs offensive weapons, long-range munitions, armed drones, combat planes and tanks, as its military leadership repeats over and over again in each of the visits by international leaders and in each and every one of the interviews. kyiv needs more materiel to push back Russian troops in the Donbas and to launch another long-awaited counteroffensive on the southern flank, after recapturing the port city of Kherson. And more with the prospect of a new Russian offensive at the beginning of 2023, as alerted by Ukrainian intelligence; a statement that, however, has raised some doubts in Western agencies.

The Zelensky government and its most insistent allies in Europe—Poland and the Baltic countries—continue to demand more advanced offensive weapons from the United States, such as ATACMS long-range systems, which could hit targets in Russia, or Gray Eagle armed drones, which could even now Washington has refused to provide.

The Patriot systems, which were used against Russian-made Scud missiles during the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and have been upgraded several times since then, consist of mobile batteries that include a command center, radar station to detect threats and launchers. Its radar can track up to 50 targets and strikes five of them at once, although around 90 soldiers are needed to handle them, according to the CSIS, a US specialized organization. US forces will train the first Ukrainian soldiers in the use and maintenance of these anti-missile systems, probably in Germany, Western intelligence sources say.

The delivery of the Patriot system also has an important symbolic component. In Ukraine his delivery is seen as proof that Washington is willing to maintain its support. And for this reason, to guarantee it, Zelensky has devised his lightning trip to the United States on his first departure from Ukraine. A trip that also takes place after his bold and representative visit to the city of Bakhmut, the hottest spot in Donbas and where the bloodiest battles have been fought in recent weeks.

Washington’s new announcement of support may also serve as an incentive for other allies to follow the path of the United States and send more advanced and long-range weapons, Western intelligence sources say. The Patriot system will join other air defense systems that the Western allies have sent to Ukraine, such as the two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), sent by the US; an S-300 air defense system delivered by Slovakia; or HAWK launcher systems sent by Spain and missiles for that anti-aircraft defense provided by the Pentagon.

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