Experts: Ukraine has to decide how best to use air defense systems

U.S. Patriot air defense system.
U.S. Patriot air defense system. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Ukraine has received a welcome Christmas present from the U.S. in order to help defend itself against Russian air strikes. However, experts are still waiting to see exactly how many air defense systems the latest military aid package contains and how they will be deployed.

In addition to the U.S., a number of countries produce air defense systems, which are comparable to the Patriot. However, up to now, few have been willing to give them away.

The latest U.S. military aid package to Ukraine, which includes Patriot air defense systems, may provide more questions than answers. The amount of aid being provided - $1.8 billion (USD) – appears to give some indication of what the package contains and how much it will help bolster Ukraine's defensive capabilities.

"At this stage, it is not known exactly how many systems and, crucially, how much ammunition will be involved, and for how long they will be sustainable. $1.8 billion (USD) seems like a lot of money to the average person, but in a war, it is actually a small amount," said MEP and former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Riho Terras.

"(Especially) if we consider, that in Afghanistan the US spent around $300 million (USD) per day, and the intensity of the war there was very low," Terras said.

The deployment of Patriots does not take very long. According to Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Air Defense Inspector Lt. Col. Tanel Lelov, to train experienced personnel can take up to ten weeks, and that process may already be underway.

There are also important choices to be made about where best to use the defense systems. With Ukrainian military leaders claiming, that Russia is preparing for a further attack on Kyiv, the Patriots could be used to bolster the capital's air defenses.

"They are going to (use them to) protect critical objects. Whether that be electricity infrastructure or any other infrastructure. And because of that, the level of protection for those objects will increase," said Lelov, pointing out the need to defend against all forms of aerial attack, including from ballistic missiles.

However, questions still remain over whether the allies have enough stockpiled ammunition and the willingness to use it in order to win the war.

"The production of military equipment is currently proceeding at a peacetime pace and neither Europe nor the United States have gone into a 'military build-up' of their defense industries," Terras said.

"There was an understanding in the West for decades that control of the air is taken care of by aircraft and therefore there was no need for air defense systems. The U.S. had no real ground-based air defense system," he explained.

Terras is among the experts who suspect the West is pressuring Ukraine to start negotiating with Russia. The amount of weapons Ukraine is being given will not be enough for them to win the war, but it may leave them in a better position to negotiate.

In 2018, the Patriot defense system also visited Estonia. At that time, it was shown to the media and then to the public during a parade.

"There have also been discussions about different issues related to the defense of Estonia - how much would be needed and where. If we only need to protect our critical infrastructure or major cities, then the number (of Patriot systems) would definitely be one. If we want to have Patriot air defenses to cover the whole of Estonia, then that number would be many times higher," said Lelov.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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