• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

US to redirect Patriot air defence orders to Ukraine

US to redirect Patriot air defence orders to Ukraine

The US is pausing the delivery of Patriot interceptor missiles to other nations so it can fast-track orders for Ukraine to bolster its air defences against Russian attacks.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday confirmed that the US had made the “difficult but necessary decision” to prioritise delivering Patriot and NASAM missiles to Ukraine, delaying deliveries to other countries that had purchased them so that Kyiv can maintain its stockpiles “at a key moment in the war”.

“We’re going to reprioritise the deliveries of these exports so that those missiles rolling off the production line will now be provided to Ukraine,” he added, saying that the shipments were expected to begin in the late summer.

“This . . . demonstrates our commitment to supporting our partners when they’re in existential danger,” Kirby said. 

The decision to bring Kyiv to the front of the production queue, as reported by the Financial Times earlier on Thursday, follows President Joe Biden saying last week that he had secured commitments for the delivery of additional air defence systems to Ukraine.

Biden said several nations had agreed to send Patriot and other air defence systems to Kyiv, and that other countries expecting deliveries would have to wait because “everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met”.

Standing beside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the two signed a 10-year defence pact on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Puglia, Biden added that Kyiv would begin receiving more systems “relatively quickly”.

Zelenskyy said he was “deeply grateful” to Biden and the US “for prioritising Ukraine in the delivery of air defences that we critically need to defeat Russian attacks”. 

“These additional air defence capabilities will protect Ukrainian cities and civilians,” he added.

Kirby confirmed that countries that had already ordered the missiles would receive them, but “on a delayed timeline”.

Washington has briefed all affected countries privately; air defence exports to Taiwan are not expected to be affected. The White House looked at re-sequencing the delivery of air defence systems as well as interceptors and was open to doing so. But ultimately it opted to pursue a “parallel” and “intensive” effort to get Ukraine additional existing air defence systems, a senior White House official said.

Romania on Thursday decided to donate one Patriot system to Ukraine, according to the office of President Klaus Iohannis. Zelenskyy thanked Romania for its “crucial contribution”.

Spain and Greece also have Patriots in their arsenals, but have so far declined to authorise transfers of launch systems to Ukraine. Poland has said its Patriots are protecting the infrastructure used to ship western weaponry across its border into Ukraine, and thus are already deployed to help protect the war-torn country.

In addition, Italy said this month it would send Kyiv a second SAMP/T air defence system, a European-made alternative to the Patriot.

The US-made Patriot systems are Washington’s most advanced air defence weapons. They consist of a radar system and mobile launchers that can fire interceptor missiles at incoming projectiles or aircraft.

Zelenskyy has called them “the most effective air defence system in the world today” and said they were capable of shooting down all Russian missiles, including ballistic ones. He said in April that “to protect Ukraine completely, in the future, Ukraine would need 25 Patriot systems with six to eight batteries each”.

He and foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba have since told Nato allies that Ukraine needs a minimum of seven Patriot systems to effectively cover the country’s airspace.

Ukraine has at least four Patriot systems at present, provided by the US and Germany. Since Zelenskyy made a plea for additional deliveries this spring, Germany has said it would send an additional battery, and the Netherlands announced an initiative to send another based on components supplied by multiple countries. Biden then approved the deployment of another Patriot air defence system to Ukraine last week. 

The Patriot systems and their interceptor missiles have helped protect key government buildings and critical infrastructure in Kyiv and other cities across the country.

In at least one instance, a Patriot missile downed a Russian A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft over the Sea of Azov in January, according to two Ukrainian officials with knowledge of the operation and Colonel Rosanna Clemente, assistant chief of staff at the US 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, speaking on a panel this month.

Russia has knocked out or captured more than half of Ukraine’s power generation, causing the worst rolling blackouts since its full-scale invasion in 2022. Moscow’s latest wave of missile and drone attacks has targeted Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, including thermal and hydroelectric power plants, which are much harder and more expensive to fix, rebuild or replace.

“Addressing the ammunition shortfalls and coverage gaps in Ukraine’s air defence is essential for the country to defend critical infrastructure, and no less important than stabilising the front line,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

“Russian strikes have significantly damaged Ukraine’s non-nuclear power generation capacity, and Russian drones are increasingly able to target Ukrainian positions behind the front lines because of a lack of air defence coverage.”

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Henry Foy in Brussels

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