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A Patriot missile battery from the US could create new headaches for Russia in Ukraine

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This article by Jake Epstein was originally published by Business Insider.

As Russian forces continue to fire missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities, the U.S. appears to be getting ready to ramp up security assistance in a way that would allow Kyiv to better defend itself against threats raining down from above. 

The U.S. is poised to send Ukraine a Patriot missile defense battery that is already stationed overseas. Approval for this action — which is expected soon — requires Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to sign off before it would then head to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The MIM-104 Patriot is a highly mobile, truck-mounted surface-to-air missile system that costs about $1 billion. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Defense Project, it is the primary air and missile defense system that the U.S. has in its arsenal. As the most advanced U.S. air defense system, it can engage aircraft, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and even drones and loitering munitions.

A Patriot battery typically consists of eight launchers armed with four interceptor missiles and support systems like a power vehicle, a radar set, and a control station. An interceptor missile can fly up and eliminate targets at altitudes up to nearly 80,000 feet. These systems have been deployed across Europe and the Middle East. 

Related: How effective is Russia’s Nebo-M counter-stealth radar?

A patriot missile radar system set assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, sits in a training area during the units table gunnery training exercise on Kadena Air Base in Japan, Oct. 19, 2017. (U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Adan Cazarez)

The system was originally designed by Raytheon in the 1960s and first introduced to the battlefield during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. It has since been used by foreign militaries like that of Israel — which deployed the system to shoot down Hamas drones and a Syrian jet — and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which used the system against Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen’s civil war.    

CNN, citing two U.S. officials and senior Biden administration officials, first reported on the anticipated delivery, which would bolster Ukraine’s air defense amid an ongoing cycle of Russian attacks against Ukrainian cities that are intended to spread terror and fear, as well as disable critical civilian infrastructure. 

For over two months, Russian forces have launched a deadly onslaught of missile and drone barrages targeting Ukrainian cities and the country’s civil infrastructure — often wreaking havoc on its energy grid. The U.S. and its allies, in response, have prioritized sending military hardware to Ukraine that will allow the country to better defend its airspace. 

Germany, for example, sent four IRIS-T SLM air defense systems, NATO announced it would send signal-jammers to counter deadly Iranian-made suicide drones, and the U.S. delivered National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), air defense systems that provide short- to medium-range protection and are used to defend Washington, DC. 

Related: US confirms sending HARM missiles as Ukraine wreaks havoc on Russian air defense systems

Cpt. Grzegorz Piskiewcz, the air defense officer, 12th Mechanized Division Headquarters, and Sgt. 1st Class Paige Shelton from the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, discuss some of the capabilities of the new U.S. Army patriot missile system in the Drawsko Pomorskie area of Poland, June 4, 2018. (Michigan Army National Guard photo by Spc. Aaron Good/Released)

The delivery of a Patriot battery would arm Ukraine with its most advanced air-defense capabilities yet to use on the battlefield at a time when Russia is already struggling with a dwindling stockpile of precision-guided missiles.

U.S. officials have said that Russia is burning through its munitions stockpiles faster than the country can replace them. A top U.K. envoy said last week that Moscow is trying to secure “hundreds” of ballistic missiles from Iran in exchange for “unprecedented” military support. It is unclear where those discussions stand.

Patriot missiles would provide defenses against missiles, freeing up other Ukrainian air defense assets to focus on knocking out incoming drones, specifically the explosive suicide drones Russia purchased from Iran. Ukraine’s defense ministry said Wednesday that it shot down 13 of 13 inbound drones, which were identified as Shahed-136s and Shahed-131s.

The Patriot air and missile defense system “has demonstrated its ability to shoot down cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles, and loitering munitions, and I think that those are the types of roles that it would be engaged in,” Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russia expert at the Center for Naval Analyses and former CIA military analyst, told Insider, adding that the Patriot “would offer capability that the Ukrainians do not have right now.”

Edmonds said the systems could be used to defend Ukraine’s critical infrastructure from Russian attacks, explaining that “given Russia’s strategy right now of hitting critical infrastructure in order to undermine … the Ukrainian will to resist — any system like this is going to help.”

Related: Russia uses ‘relic’ weapons in Ukraine, including the 9K111 Fagot anti-tank system

The Army test fires a Patriot missile in a recent test. The Patriot missile system is a ground-based, mobile missile defense interceptor deployed by the United States to detect, track and engage unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, and short-range and tactical ballistic missiles. (U.S. Army Security Assistance Command)

Mick Ryan, a strategist and retired Australian Defense Force major general said on social media that sending Patriot missiles to Ukraine would be “a significant and positive step in assisting #Ukraine defend itself against the Russian missile and drone attacks.”

Russian officials have previously warned NATO against sending Patriots to Ukraine. Although the U.S. is expected to provide Patriot missiles to Ukraine, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department would confirm the reported delivery at their respective press briefings on Tuesday.    

“We have been very clear that the United States will continue to prioritize sending air defense systems to Ukraine to help our Ukrainian partners defend themselves from the brutal Russian aggression that we’ve seen for the better part of a year now,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

“I don’t have anything to preview or announce,” he continued, “but our commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense capabilities, including through the provision of air defense systems, is something we are committed to.”

Ukraine has not acknowledged a pending delivery either, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Ukraine is “constantly strengthening our air defense and anti-drone defense.”

“We are doing everything to get more modern and more powerful systems for Ukraine,” he said, adding that “this week we have made important progress on the air defense issue.”

Feature Image: The Army test fires a Patriot missile in a recent test. (U.S. Army photo by Jason Cutshaw)

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