Patriot Missiles for UA

The US is getting ready to provide the Patriot air-defense system to Ukraine. The publicly stated reason is to defend against Russian cruise missile and drone strikes on the nation’s power distribution network and energy related facilities such as national gas and petroleum reserves.

The truth is Patriot system is badly suited for such purposes. The one battery the US had pledged can at best provide partial protection to one facility such as airfield of powerplant or a bridge against such targets. To protect a major city like Kiev against low-flying targets, many batteries would be required to position around its borders.

Generally speaking, Patriot PAC-2 version, with is most likely to be provided to UA, is roughly equivalent to the S-300PM variants. According to some sources, UA had around 100 launchers of S-300 variants at the beginning of the war. With a usual 4 launchers per battery, that would amount to ~25 batteries. With some additional ones supplied by EU countries. A significant portion of those there destroyed during the war.

So, if UA had around two dozen of S-300 batteries that did little to protect against Russian strikes, one Patriot battery will have almost zero effect. In fact, it is much more likely the Patriot systems are intended to replace the destroyed S-300 systems.

The reason UA still wants them, despite them being almost useless against cruise missiles and especially drones (such as Iranian Shahed-136 ones), is to maintain its anti-access/area-defence capabilities which prevent an efficient use of Russian military aviation in UA. Currently, no bombing or reconnaissance missions are possible because of this threat. Only recently on Ka-52 attack helicopter and one Su-24 frontline bomber jet were shot down by a medium-range Buk air-defense missile system and MANPADS, if the reports are correct. And those ones there staying close to Russian held territories, and operated at low altitudes, to stay under the reach of long-range systems.

So, Patriots are intended to replace the gradually depleting force of S-300 variants. This is the Ukrainian reason for requesting those systems. But why would US agree to provide them?

The reason is that Russian had demonstrated its inability to effectively suppress Ukrainian air-defense. Its current countermeasures are not capable enough to allow safe operation over enemy air-defense systems. And it has no alternative such as low-cost decoy drones, which would be able to exhaust the UA’s stock of air-defense missiles. The closest they came to this are the Iranian primitive drones, which Ukrainians are trying to shoot down using not only small arms and anti-aircraft artillery, but also MANPADS and (probably) longer range air-defense missile systems.

The lack of this ability was somewhat understandable at the beginning of the operation, since, traditionally, Soviet Union and then Russia envisioned themselves to be the ones who use the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities against NATO’s supremacy of air combat power. But in UA Russians find themselves being the ones with obvious air-power advantage, yet unable to implement it because of the enemy’s A2/AD capabilities.

Another reason is Russian initial plan was to inflict a disarming strike against UA military using ground forces. This plan has failed.

That being said, at the very least Russian military planners should have tasked the military-industrial complex with designing or adopting an existent design of some kind of simple drone to be produced in large numbers. Ideally, whose decoy drones would imitate fighter jets and bombers and force the UA air-defense to fire on them. Much like Ukrainian military is using unguided rockets to exhaust the ready-to-fire missiles of Russian air-defense troops before they launch guided GMLRS missiles at intended targets.

NATO has a range of such decoys to simulate air attack. Enemy’s radars would see them as manned aircraft of cruise missiles or guided stand-off munition of some kind, and lead to their intercept, thus exposing fire-control radars and exhausting air-defense missiles.

Russia not only doesn’t have any similar decoys to speak of, but it is also unable or unwilling to introduce them even after almost a year of fighting. Its airpower supremacy left unused, and its stock of cruise missiles is being depleted against electrical network transformers.

If so, if Russia has demonstrated its inability and/or unwillingness to engage in effective suppression/destruction of enemy air-defenses, then US can be relatively sure its Patriot systems wouldn’t be destroyed on the first day of their deployment in UA, thus humiliating the US government and the Pentagon and tarnishing the image of Patriot as an effective air-defense system. That is all that there is to it.

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