Ukraine Seeks Western Air Defense Systems Following Russian Missile Escalation

Dimitri Simes | October 13, 2022 | 5:14pm EDT
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Ukrainians take photos in Kyiv of a crater left by one of scores of Russian missile strikes targeting the capital and other cities this week. (Photo by Elizabeth Servatynska / Suspilne Ukraine/JSC "UA:PBC" / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
Ukrainians take photos in Kyiv of a crater left by one of scores of Russian missile strikes targeting the capital and other cities this week. (Photo by Elizabeth Servatynska / Suspilne Ukraine/JSC "UA:PBC" / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Moscow ( – Ukraine is seeking to acquire Western air defense systems following a recent wave of Russian airstrikes that inflicted serious damage on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

During a virtual address at the Council of Europe on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged European lawmakers to provide his country with modern anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems.

“Already this year, we need to protect our sky from the terror of Russia,” he said. “If this is done, it will be a fundamental step to end the entire war in the near future.”

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine presently had only 10 percent of the air defense capabilities needed to withstand Russia’s missile and drone attacks. “We are fighting a large state that has a large amount of equipment and missiles,” he said.

Several Western governments have already pledged to help Ukraine bolster its air defenses. On Wednesday, Germany delivered the first of four IRIS-T air defense systems to Ukraine. With an operating range of 40 kilometers and a target detection range of 250 kilometers, the IRIS-T is designed to provide cover for armies and small cities.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. would speed up the delivery of eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) to Ukraine. The systems were originally promised to Kyiv as part of a $820 million military aid package adopted in July.

The U.S. military itself uses NASAMS, which are jointly manufactured by Raytheon Technologies and Norway’s Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace and have an operational range between 30 to 50 kilometers, to protect the White House and Pentagon from potential air threats.

Both France and the United Kingdom have also promised to supply Ukraine with air defense weapons in the coming weeks. Likewise, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the alliance would soon deliver counter-drone equipment to Ukraine, including hundreds of drone jammers.

During a meeting with allied defense officials in Brussels on Wednesday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley proposed that NATO members “chip in and help [Ukraine] rebuild and sustain an integrated air and missile defense system.”

Kyiv’s request for new air defense systems from the West comes amid the largest Russia airstrike campaign against Ukraine since the start of conflict nearly eight months ago.

Beginning on Monday, Russian forces have fired more than 100 cruise missiles and dozens of kamikaze drones at Ukrainian energy facilities, administrative buildings, and communications networks.

The strikes left millions of Ukrainians facing electricity blackouts, with Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko telling CNN about 30 percent of the country’s energy infrastructure had been damaged in the recent attacks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov downplayed the arrival of Western air defense systems in Ukraine, telling reporters “this will make the conflict longer and more painful for the Ukrainian side, but it will not change our goals or the end result.”

Russian defense analysts have expressed differing views on the issue.

Sergey Khatylev, a reserve colonel in the Russian Air Force, told the state-owned RT media outlet that the systems promised to Ukraine were too few in number to make a meaningful difference.

He also questioned whether Ukraine would be able to properly integrate the Western systems into its existing air defense network and train its troops how to use them effectively.

“In Russia, it takes about six months to train modern air defense systems. It is unlikely that the training cycle for the development of IRIS-T and NASAMS is significantly less,” he said. “These are complex, capricious, and expensive weapons systems. Considering the West’s plans for early deliveries, the alliance will not be able to properly train Ukrainian personnel.”

A more pessimistic assessment was expressed by “ Military Observer,” an influential, anonymous defense analyst on Telegram. He argued that Russian aerospace forces have not been systematically trained to suppress large enemy air defense groups – a highly complex operation requiring close coordination between ground troops and the air force.

“At the current stage of development of domestic airborne forces, we don’t have the option of conducting large-scale operations to break through Ukrainian air defense,” the analyst said.

“Consequently, the missile and drone strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure will eventually run into the ever-growing opposition from modern NATO air defense systems, whose role in the battles for the Ukrainian sky will be extremely difficult to dispute.”

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