January 27, 2023 9:26 pm

Ukraine war: US Patriot missiles would comfort Kyiv and alarm Moscow

Since the start of the war in February, many Western air defences have been sent in – from man-portable Stinger shoulder-launched missiles, through to an advanced heat-seeking surface-to-air missile. All provide a comprehensive level of protection against different threats.

Patriots are another step on that same path – and one which will antagonise Moscow. They’re not a silver bullet, but they are extremely capable, effective and expensive. One Patriot missile costs around $3m – three times the cost of a missile in a NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System).

Patriots were used against Iraq’s Russian-made Scud missiles during the first Gulf War and have been continuously developed since by Raytheon Technologies. They come in batteries that include a command centre, a radar station to detect incoming threats – and launchers.

Ranges to target reportedly vary between 40km to 160km, depending on the type of missile used. And they are what’s termed “point defence” systems: generally designed to defend particular areas such as cities or important infrastructures – in other words high-value assets.

No US or other Nato troops can operate these systems inside Ukraine, so like other Western weapons Ukrainian forces will have to be trained to use them – and that training has to take place outside of their country. If such a deployment happens soon, such training is likely to already be well under way.

Officially, nothing has been announced by the US. Earlier this week, Washington wouldn’t say if they would be deployed, but perhaps, more pertinently, didn’t say that they wouldn’t.

“I don’t have any announcements to make today regarding any new security assistance packages. As always we will continue to remain committed to providing Ukraine with the key capability that it needs to defend its nation,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder said tonight.

Today (Thursday), Moscow called any plans to deploy Patriots “a provocation” and a further expansion of the United States’ military involvement in Ukraine. Russia indicated that such missiles would become what it called “legitimate targets” for missile strikes, something that has been said before in this war.

Precisely what overall effect Patriot systems will have is difficult to say. They will certainly provide an additional layer of protection, but their size and expense means that few units will be able to be sent. What is clear is that Ukraine’s ageing, Russian-built Surface-to-Air Missile systems are gradually being replaced by modern western SAMs, and that is something that will provide comfort for Kyiv but alarm for Moscow.

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