Ukraine will receive Patriot and NASAM missiles redirected by US allies

The United States will suspend the planned export of hundreds of air defense munitions to allies and partners and redirect them to Ukraine, the White House announced Thursday, as Russia continues its attacks on the power grid and other vital infrastructure in the country.

Speaking to reporters, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the decision “difficult but necessary” and said it would primarily affect deliveries of Patriot and NASAMS interceptor missiles. Ukraine, he said, faces a “desperate” need.

“We have of course informed all affected countries that we are taking this extraordinary step, and we are doing everything possible to minimize any negative impact,” Kirby said. He added that when U.S. allies were informed their shipments would be delayed, “the response we got was largely favorable…because they know how serious the needs are in Ukraine.”

It is the latest in a series of recent moves by the Biden administration to strengthen Ukraine as it defends against an aggressive push by Moscow aimed at breaking the country’s morale. Throughout the spring, the White House approved major arms transfers to replenish depleted stockpiles, repealed its strict ban on using U.S. weapons for strikes inside Russia, and solidified a pact to 10-year security with Kiev while leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies said they would use billions of dollars in frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine’s fight.

For months, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has been pleading with its supporters for a substantial increase in its air defense arsenal as Russia bombards Ukraine with missiles, drones and glide bombs. To date, these requests have resulted in one additional Patriot system from the United States and another from Romania.

The Patriot and NASAMS systems are the two most sophisticated air defense platforms that the West has supplied to Ukraine. The Patriot, valued at $1 billion, is particularly coveted by kyiv. It is the only system in its arsenal that has proven capable of shooting down Russian hypersonic missiles, which are particularly difficult to detect and combat.

Ukraine, however, has struggled to protect itself against Russian glide bombs, as they are almost impossible to bring down once launched. The solution, Ukrainian officials say, is to target the planes that fire these weapons, but doing so in the short term would require moving their limited number of Patriots closer to the Russian border, making them more vulnerable to attack.

In the longer term, Ukraine hopes that its fleet of advanced F-16 fighter jets will prove a formidable counterattack to the Kremlin’s hover bombs, but the arrival of these planes, promised by Western countries, will months ago, there are still several weeks to go, officials say.

Kirby did not specify how long U.S. allies would have to wait for their delayed orders, but said the reprioritization would not impact Taiwan, which faces a threat from China, or Israel, which has suffered attacks from Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East. Including Hezbollah and Houthi militants.

A State Department official declined to say which U.S. partners might be involved or when the munitions would be redirected, citing ongoing diplomatic conversations about the process. Kirby said the interceptors bound for Ukraine would include missiles “rolling off the production line.”

The proposal was floated by President Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan in early April as Republicans delayed approval of a major national security spending bill aimed at providing more arms and assistance to Ukraine, a senior administration official said. Sullivan’s plan came to fruition in the weeks that followed, telling Biden Zelensky at last week’s G7 summit in Italy that the United States would reorganize its air defense exports to prioritize Ukraine , the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The policy change was first reported by the Financial Times.

While the Patriot was primarily used to defend against Russian missile attacks, Ukrainian air defenders also used them to shoot down enemy aircraft.

Ukraine has used Patriot systems in a “historic” way by bringing them closer to the front line, pushing the limits of their capabilities, the US Army colonel said. Rosanna Clemente, deputy chief of staff of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, said at a recent symposium.

The so-called “SAMBush” — short for surface-to-air missile ambush — shot down a Russian A-50 command-and-control aircraft in January, Clemente said. Ukraine said it shot down the plane over the Sea of ​​Azov.

Washington late last month authorized Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied weapons against limited military targets in Russia from which its forces are attacking or preparing to attack.

kyiv was authorized to “use US-supplied air defense systems to knock Russian planes out of the sky, even if those Russian planes are in Russian airspace, if they are about to fire over Ukrainian airspace,” the major said. Charlie Dietz, Pentagon spokesperson.

This separate policy has been in effect for more than a year, a senior administration official said previously, noting that Ukraine has shot down several helicopters and fighter jets using Patriots. “There has never been a restriction” on using U.S. air defenses to shoot down Russian planes arriving into Russian territory, the official said.

Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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