The US is poised to send Patriot air and missile defense batteries to Ukraine pending final approval from President Joe Biden, two US officials said Tuesday, fulfilling a key demand from Ukrainian leaders.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urgently sought the system, produced by Raytheon Technologies Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., saying Patriots are needed to counter the relentless barrage of Russian missiles that have targeted Ukraine’s military as well as civilian and energy infrastructure.
The decision to send the Patriot system may come within days, one of the officials said, but still requires a final sign-off by Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The tentative decision was reported earlier by CNN. Asked for comment Tuesday, a State Department spokesman said Biden has been clear that the US will prioritize sending air defense systems to Ukraine to help it defend against Russian aggression.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that he had nothing to announce but the US would keep up a “robust dialog” on Ukraine’s battlefield needs. As recently as Nov. 29, Ryder said the US had no plans to provide Patriot batteries to Ukraine.
Zelenskiy has kept up the pressure for more air defenses to fend off Russian attacks. The US is also supplying Ukraine with millions of dollars of equipment to replace generators and other energy equipment targeted by Russia, and wants to be able to make sure that gear doesn’t get blown up again.
A European diplomat, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations, said sending Patriots would be a welcome move but added that Ukraine still needs tanks and longer-range rocket systems for major counteroffensives.
It’s unclear how quickly the US will be able to get Patriots into Ukraine if approval comes through. The systems could be there soon if the US sends systems from its own stocks in Europe or the US, rather than contracting for new ones. But Patriots also require large crews with extensive training, a process that could take months.
“It all depends on how many Patriots they are ready to send,” said Yevgeny Buzhinsky, a retired Russian general and Moscow-based defense analyst. “If they talk about several complexes, this won’t change anything. A dozen could protect a few objects. And there are thousands of them.”
At a briefing in November, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US and its partners want to provide Ukraine a range of air defense systems. Germany has already delivered the first of four Iris-T systems, and Ukraine has also received an Aspide anti-missile system from Spain. Sweden announced in November that it would send air defenses as well.
The Patriots could provide greatly expanded, networked coverage against Russian aircraft and missiles. It’s the most exported US missile defense system, used by nations including Saudi Arabia, Poland and Taiwan. The most advanced version fires a missile that directly strikes the intended target, while earlier versions explode near a missile or aircraft.
Ukraine may get less advanced systems because the latest models are in such high demand.