President Joe Biden has agreed to provide Ukraine with nearly $20 billion in military aid since Russia invaded last February, though he has often chosen not to send certain systems that the U.S. believes Russia would view as escalatory. But this announcement could demonstrate a shift in that stance.
Sean McFate, a professor at the National Defense University, told the Washington Examiner that providing a Patriot missile defense system would amount to “a major escalation” and a “major provocation.”
Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Brad Bowman disagreed, telling the Washington Examiner that the argument against providing the Patriot defense system to avoid provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin is “ridiculous” and saying Russia’s current campaign of targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is an escalation itself.
“I think the first implication is that it is a signal to Russia. It’s a signal to NATO. It’s a signal, perhaps, to Republicans in Washington, D.C., that this is an escalation that is not on par with things in the past, even like HIMARS,” McFate added. “It’s a different level.”
The Patriot system, which is made by Raytheon, is one of the country’s most advanced surface-to-air missile defense systems and is designed to track and intercept incoming ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft. Ukrainian officials have long asked the U.S. and allies for additional air defense systems as they have struggled to defend themselves against Russia’s frequent attacks against their power grid.
With a rapidly dwindling military inventory, Russia has gone to North Korea and Iran looking to purchase weapons. Iran has provided hundreds of unmanned drones that Russia has used in the attacks that have gone on for months now against Ukraine’s energy grid. Russia launched more than a dozen rockets on Wednesday, all of which were Iranian-made Shahed drones, and they were each shot down, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced.
“We’re talking about saving lives in Ukraine,” Bowman said. “There’s nothing more important than that. We’re also talking about stopping attacks on critical infrastructure, including power plants.”
Russian forces could run out of artillery and rocket ammunition in the coming months, a senior U.S. military official told reporters earlier this week.
“At the rate of fire that Russia has been using its artillery and rocket ammunition,” the official explained, “in terms of what we would call fully serviceable artillery and rocket ammunition, they could probably do that until early 2023. Their stocks of, again, fully serviceable ammunition, you know, this would be new ammunition, is rapidly dwindling, which is probably forcing them to increasingly use ammunition and what we would consider the graded conditions.”
One of the concerns with providing Ukraine with the Patriot missile defense system is the time it takes to train troops on how to use it — which usually takes months.
The U.S. has also taken other steps to help Ukraine defend itself from aerial attacks, including providing two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, last month and signing a $1.2 billion contract to build and provide six more over the next two years.