Ahead of his country’s bid to secure F-16 fighter jets, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has argued that more Patriot air defense systems are needed to “create a sky shield over the European continent.”
“Until the moment when Ukraine receive modern fighter jets from its partners, it should have the means to protect itself from a Russian air attack,” Ministry of Defense (MoD) of Ukraine he said after the country’s head of state’s speech to media representatives at the second meeting of the European Political Community in Moldova on June 1.
“Why [the] Patriot? Because the Patriots have shown the whole world how it works: we shoot down every type of missile of the Russian Federation. And this is a very important conclusion for the defense of the world, the defense of Europe,” said Zelensky.
Patriot is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defense system that intercepts conventional ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
The system is widely used: it defends the US and allied countries, such as Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Patriots and F-16s
GlobalData’s land sector analyst Tristan Sauer notes that while “both the Patriot and the F-16 fighter provide significant capabilities on their own, their combined use in sufficient numbers could allow the Ukrainian Air Force to thwart various tactics which the Russian military has relied on in recent months.
“These include the massive deployment of cruise missiles and low-cost explosive drones against both military and civilian infrastructure, thus potentially forcing them to operate in a manner more favorable to Ukrainian military objectives.”
However, with only two Patriot batteries active in Ukraine, with five to eight launchers per battery, exercising the intended full capability of both platforms is not something that the Ukrainian armed forces can effectively implement.
“The main caveat is that it would require a specific commitment from Ukraine’s Western allies to provide and support these systems at a sufficient scale to enable the Ukrainian Air Force to effectively deploy this capability. The number of Patriots and F-16s committed to Ukraine at this point remains below the threshold where they could be useful to this extent,” Sauer continued.
We can expect the country to increase spending on strategic land-attack missiles from $758 million to $1.6 billion between 2023-2032, registering a compound annual growth rate of 9.02%.
In recent times, Russia has used a number of different missiles and aerial vehicles against Ukraine.
The UK Foreign Office, in one of its daily conflict updates since May 17, announced that Ukraine shot down a Russian air-launched “Killjoy” ballistic missile. This is a significant interception given that the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (named ‘Killjoy’ by NATO) is a hypersonic missile, meaning it can travel at five times the speed of sound.
“Russia has prioritized trying to neutralize Ukraine’s improved air defense capabilities, but in the process has likely lost many more Killjoys,” the UK Foreign Office added.
Demonstration of European power
According to the president, Ukraine is the focus for the proven effectiveness of the Patriot system.
Ukraine’s integration with European systems is a major focus for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, which portrayed its air defense as interchangeable with continental Europe’s air defense, stating: “Our country is ready to share this experience [of the Patriot] to create a sky shield for the entire European continent.”
“Let’s start with our territory because it is the hottest: we are at war. Patriots work. Although we don’t have modern aircraft, we need more Patriots. That’s why we need a coalition of Patriots,” Zelensky stressed.
Currently, Ukraine’s air defense capability is not formally integrated with European capabilities, more specifically in any way NATO’s Integrated Air & Missile Defense mission.
“President Zelenskyy’s reference to a collective ‘sky shield’ indicates his administration’s commitment to integrate Ukraine into the broader NATO alliance and contribute to its security and deterrence operations in Europe,” Sauer points out.
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