Ukraine, USA send Patriots: what they are and what the impact will be

The anti-missile system in the new aid package for Kiev

Defined by Volodomyr Zelensky as “the strongest element of the new military aid package”, Ukraine will receive from the United States the Patriots it has been asking for for a long time from Washington. In reality, a single battery for launching missiles that could loosen the grip of the Russian strategy of destroying civil and energy infrastructures does not appear sufficient to the Ukrainian president: “We would like more Patriots, we are at war, we are sorry”, he said during the press conference yesterday at the White House.

Even if it won’t be able to protect the whole country, the deployment of the mobile anti-missile system, mainly for defensive use, shows a great commitment from the United States. “It’s a very significant political statement, and at the same time an improvement in Ukraine’s defense capabilities,” said Tom Karako, head of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Patriots are a sophisticated system of guided surface-to-air missiles that can detect and shoot down both missiles and aircraft, therefore offering complete protection to civilians and armies. Conceived in the 1960s to protect Europe from the Soviet Union, they were deployed in the 1980s and have become the most widely used air defense system in the world.

A Battery of Patriots – the cost of which is estimated at one billion dollars, with each missile costing between 3 and 4 million – is equipped with a launch system mounted on a mobile vehicle with eight launchers, each of which can contain from four to 16 missiles, depending on the ammunition.

It takes 90 soldiers to operate the system, which also includes radars, control stations and electric generators. What made them ‘popular’ was the 1991 Gulf War, when American-deployed Patriot systems intercepted – lighting up the night skies of what became the first war on live television – Iraqi Scuds fired at Saudi cities.

The system has since been deployed in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific in fear of attacks from Iran, Somalia and North Korea. Now their focus in Ukraine will be to defend Ukraine from Russian bombing of what is left of the country facing winter without electricity. However, the system has a limited range, between 32 and 160 kilometresneeds training of Ukrainian troops and must be supported by other defense systems.

Biden had so far resisted Kiev’s calls to send Patriots, with the Russians warning they would consider the deployment of this air defense system an escalation and threaten “possible consequences”. But prompting him to decide to send the system was Moscow’s large-scale bombing campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure.

And now that the shipment has been announced, from Moscow the accusations against Washington of “war by proxy” and of not wanting to favor an end to the conflict are renewed. “Their reaction is probably proof of the system’s capability,” concluded Karako, saying the deployment of the Patriots could prompt the Kremlin to reconsider some aspects of the air campaign.

As for sending more batteries, Karako recalls that the US has 15 Patriot battalions, some already deployed in Europe and the Middle East, one of which will now be busy training Ukrainian forces at a base in Germany. A training that will take some time, Biden warned yesterday.