(WASHINGTON) — If the United States approves the transfer of Patriot air defense missiles to Ukraine will they really be the game changer that Ukrainian officials expect them to be? And how quickly could they actually get to the battlefield?
Those are some of the questions being raised after U.S. officials have confirmed that the Pentagon has prepared plans to transfer Patriot batteries to Ukraine if approved by President Joe Biden, a possibility that could happen as early as this week.
The air defense system can target ballistic and cruise missiles as well as manned and unmanned aircraft with a maximum range of 100 miles, depending on the system possibly given to Ukraine.
A typical Patriot battery includes a radar system, a power generation supply, and a command and control station connected to several launch stations. With its sophisticated radar system it will be able to engage eight targets at a time.
The transfer of the advanced air defense system is something Ukrainian officials have been demanding since shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.
But U.S. officials have not been open to that possibility until recently out of concern over how Russia might react to their presence in Ukraine as well as over what might be learned about the missile’s technology if a missile or its components were to fall into Russian hands.
The U.S. and its partners have resupplied Ukraine’s Soviet-era S-300 air defense missiles and provided Western air defense systems such as shoulder-fired Stinger missiles and other larger air defense systems like the NASAM, jointly produced by the U.S. and Norway.
But it is the Patriot missile that Ukrainians have remained focused on specifically after Russia began using missile and one-way drone barrages targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, causing electricity blackouts throughout much of the country.
Reacting to the news that the U.S. is likely to supply Patriot air defense missile systems to Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian Defense official told ABC News that they will be “a game changer,” describing them as “one of the best systems in the world.” The official added that Ukraine’s access to the missiles will “drastically increase our capacity to defend our skies from Russian strikes.”
“The decision to provide Ukraine with Patriot surface-to-air missile systems was the right one,” said Mick Mulroy, a former assistant and an ABC News contributor.
U.S. officials believe that once the Patriot transfer is approved, a training program for Ukrainian troops could begin in Germany in a matter of weeks. But any training program will have to be much shorter than the training given to American soldiers that requires a minimum of five months of training followed by more advanced training.
“The Ukrainian soldiers have proven they are more than capable of learning complex US systems and will also learn this one,” said Mulroy.
Even with an accelerated training program it could be sometime in early 2023 before a system is operational in Ukraine.
Patriot missiles first became wide-known during the 1991 Gulf War when they successfully intercepted most Iraqi missile attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and parallel attacks on Israel.
But there have been many technological upgrades to Patriots since then and it remains to be seen which version of the missile Ukraine would receive.
“Whether this becomes a game changing technology or not will depend on how many of these missile systems the U.S. provides and how many missiles,” said Steve Ganyard, an ABC News contributor.
“But it will certainly go a long way to help plug those gaps in the air defense system that have allowed Russia to attack critical infrastructure like the electrical grids and the cities of Ukraine,” he added.
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