The officials said a directive could be approved as early as this week to transfer the Patriot, the United States’ most advanced ground-based air defense system.
The United States is poised to approve sending its most advanced ground-based air defense system to Ukraine, responding to the country’s urgent request to help defend against an onslaught of Russian missile and drone attacks, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III could approve a directive as early as this week to transfer one Patriot battery already overseas to Ukraine, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Final approval would then rest with President Biden.
White House, Pentagon and State Department officials declined to comment on details of the transfer of a Patriot battery, which, if approved, would amount to one of the most sophisticated weapons the United States has provided Ukraine. The Patriot system can knock down Russia’s ballistic missiles, unlike other systems the West has provided, and can hit targets much farther away.
“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,” Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday.
Many questions remain about the potential transfer, which was reported earlier by CNN, including how long it would take to train Ukrainian soldiers on the system, presumably in Germany, and where the Patriots would be deployed inside Ukraine.
The United States had previously resisted providing the Ukrainians Patriot batteries, of which it has relatively few and which require sophisticated training.
But Ukrainian officials have intensified their pleas for air defenses from the United States and other Western allies as Russia has conducted relentless attacks on power plants, heating systems and other energy infrastructure. The attacks, using missiles and Iranian-made drones, have left Ukrainians vulnerable and in the dark just as the coldest time of the year is beginning.
Over the weekend, Russian drone strikes on the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa plunged more than 1.5 million people in the region into darkness over the weekend. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said the strikes by Russia, part of a nationwide assault on Ukraine’s energy grid, had left the region in a “very difficult” situation, warning that it would take days, not hours, to restore power to civilians.
In a speech to the Group of 7 nations on Monday, Mr. Zelensky thanked the countries for their continued support but listed financing for weapons first among his requests.
“Unfortunately, Russia still has the advantage in artillery and missiles,” he said. He requested additional artillery, as well as modern tanks — equipment that Ukraine has repeatedly asked for, along with fighter jets and longer-range missiles.
The decision to send the Patriot system would be a powerful sign of the United States’ deepening military commitment to Ukraine. The Pentagon’s active-duty Patriot units frequently deploy for missions around the world, and experts say the United States does not have the kind of deep stockpiles of Patriot missiles available for transfer that it did with munitions like artillery shells and rockets.
Capable of being configured in a number of ways, a Patriot battery typically consists of one or more launchers, radars and vehicles for command and control of air defense operations.
The system uses three different models of missiles, according to experts at the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
One, called the PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative, or CRI, can strike enemy warplanes, helicopter and cruise missiles at a range of about 40 miles and ballistic missile targets at a range of 22 miles. The second, called PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, or MSE, can hit the same kinds of targets at ranges of 75 miles and 44 miles, respectively, the Missile Defense Project analysts said. The third, called Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical, or GEM-T, can destroy enemy aircraft about 99 miles away.
It is unclear which model or models of missiles the United States intends to send to Ukraine.
The Pentagon previously provided Ukraine with two shorter-range air defense weapons called National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, which arrived in November. The Pentagon is spending $1.2 billion for six more NASAMS to be built and delivered to Kyiv in the coming years. But NASAMS can strike targets only about a third as far as the Patriot system.
The U.S. military has deployed Patriot batteries in numerous conflicts since the early 1990s. In perhaps the weapons’ most recent combat use, U.S. Army soldiers at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates fired “multiple” Patriot interceptors at missiles headed toward the base in January, according to U.S. Central Command.
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