Western Nations Rush Defensive Systems to Ukraine to Counter Russian Missiles
KYIV, Ukraine — In just two days this week, Russian forces fired more than 100 cruise missiles and dozens of drones that exploded into cities across Ukraine, more than defense forces have ever seen. No adept of this nation ever encountered. Less than half of them have reached their goal, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine’s success in knocking down those projectiles, and the death and destruction inflicted wherever missiles hit, has rekindled calls by officials in Kyiv for Western nations West offers more sophisticated defensive weapon systems. At a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, the United States and other allies stood ready to agree to a commitment to rapidly deliver weapons.
Germany has begun to deliver four units of a missile defense system so advanced that even its own forces have not yet used it. The Netherlands promised millions of dollars for anti-aircraft missiles, and President Emmanuel Macron of France said his country would send “air defense radars, systems and missiles”.
And a day after the Biden administration said it was working to speed the delivery of two advanced missile systems, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said, “The systems will be delivered as quickly as possible. maybe.”
But for all the vulnerabilities made apparent by the bombardment, which left at least 19 people dead and about two dozen Ukrainian cities destroyed, Ukraine’s patchwork air defenses have proven to be one of the best. the great successes of the war, and one of the most unexpected. And Ukraine’s response to the attacks underscores how far air defense units have come since President Vladimir V. Putin ordered his forces to invade on February 24.
On Monday, the first day of the bombardment, the country’s air defenses destroyed more than half of about 80 cruise missiles fired, according to the Ukrainian military. And on Day 2 of the attack, only eight missiles were able to hit their targets out of a total of 28 fired, the military said. It said Ukrainian forces also destroyed nearly 50 drones with explosives this week. The figures cannot be independently confirmed.
Justin Bronk, a senior researcher at Britain’s Royal Service Institute specializing in air power, says part of the success has to do with better coordination between early warning systems, detection of incidents, etc. rocket launchers and ground-based air defense units tasked with shooting them down. The Caspian and Black Seas, where many Russian cruise missiles are launched, are closely monitored by Ukrainian and Western militaries, giving air defenses plenty of time to react.
“Ukrainian air defense forces have become significantly more capable, especially better coordinated, since the early weeks of the war,” said Dr. Bronk. The 40 to 60 percent interception rate reported by the Ukrainian military, he said, is “generally in line with what we would expect from a much more effectively organized territorial air defense system.”
Before the war, the Ukrainian army’s air defenses gathered only once a year for live-fire drills in which they would practice firing at Soviet-era drones that mimic the movements of arrows. cruise flames but not their tremendous speed.
“It’s basically all the training,” said Yuri Ignat, a spokesman for the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian army. “No one is preparing for a mass attack against the entire territory of Ukraine.”
In the early hours of the February invasion, Russian forces focused their attacks on Ukraine’s missile defense batteries, air force jets and air defense radar systems. . Through a combination of preparation and quick thinking by Ukrainian commanders – as well as poor intelligence and bad targeting by Russian forces – many defenses were preserved, ensuring that Russia never gained full control over Ukraine.
In the context of not having enough weapons to protect every corner of its territory, the Ukrainian air defense forces are constantly on the move, trying to predict the location of future attacks while avoiding being attacked by their forces. Russian missile detected, Mr. Ignat said.
“Today, fighting a war requires a lot of mobility, constantly moving as the enemy tries to find our weak points and operating around areas where we have defenses,” he said. are not. “We’re doing these drills, trying to figure out where we can do the most damage and hit the most air targets.”
The state of Ukraine’s weapons systems makes effective air defense even more difficult. The country’s military relies heavily on Soviet-era systems such as the Buk-M1 and S-300, along with a fleet of fighter aircraft, although they are less effective than missile systems.
Success often depends on the military’s weapon handling skills.
On Monday, Dmytro Shumskyi, a Ukrainian soldier in an air defense platoon in northern Ukraine, brought down two high-speed cruise missiles with a single rocket launcher designed to hit helicopters. and other low-flying targets at short range. This feat received special praise from the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.
“One person saved dozens of lives,” Zelensky said in his evening address. “Thanks for that!”
Ukraine’s air defense and missile defense operators are renowned for their skill, although Russian military planners sometimes fail to take this into account. When Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin was shocked by the destructive power of the small country’s air defenses. It was not until later that Putin discovered that Ukraine had secretly transferred air defense systems to Georgia before the war and sent advisers to teach the Georgians how to use them.
Ukrainian officials say their current systems are adequate against smaller, slower-moving cruise missiles such as the X-101 and X-555, as well as sea-based Kalibr missiles, all of constitutes the majority of rockets launched. this week. Larger missiles like the supersonic ground-launched Iskander are much more difficult to intercept.
The Iskander missile does not appear to have been used in recent large-scale attacks, but is believed to have been fired in some of the most devastating attacks of the war, including attacks on two barracks. army in the southern city of Mykolaiv, killing dozens of soldiers. .
Western officials say that Russia is restricting a dwindling supply of larger and more advanced weapons, devoting them to the highest value targets. Some are also used to carry nuclear warheads, so Russia must save enough to maintain its deterrence capability, officials said.
To counter more advanced missiles, Ukraine has demanded more sophisticated Western weapons systems such as the US-made National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, known as NASAMS. The systems will provide short to medium range coverage over 30 to 50 kilometers (about 18 to 30 miles).
On Tuesday, the White House said two NASAMS, each equipped with radar-guided missiles powerful enough to take down fighter jets, drones and cruise missiles, would be delivered to Ukraine. This comes in addition to the delivery of four German-made IRIS-T air defense systems, which began arriving in Ukraine on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Netherlands announced that it would send $15 million worth of anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.
Pressed on why advanced systems were not sent to Ukraine sooner, the US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, said that Kyiv’s weapons requirements had “evolved” during the protracted war. 8 months and that the Biden administration is working with other allies to keep up.
Douglas Barrie, a military expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it was unlikely that many countries already had many advanced air defense systems.
“And at the moment,” he said, “with the current security environment, if you only have a few of these in your country, there’s a little resistance to hand them over to someone else.”
In the early days of the war, Western officials scrambled to transfer stockpiles of Russian-style air defense systems such as the S-300 from Eastern European countries to Ukrainian forces, who had been trained to do so. practice using them. But with the Ukrainian military burning through those arsenals faster than it could replenish from a dwindling global supply, US and NATO officials concluded that Ukraine would need Western defenses. as the war continues.
The United States has sent more than 1,400 Stinger missiles, but the spate of Russian missile strikes on Monday and Tuesday underscored the urgent need for more robust defenses.
Ukraine has also asked Israel to provide air defense systems, due to the success of the Iron Dome as well as the Barak 8 missile. Israel’s longer range so far, Israel has refused, however, due to its reluctance to provoke Russia. obstructing Israeli air strikes in Syria, where Russia is located. military presence. But a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Israel is providing Ukraine with basic intelligence on Iranian drones, which Russia has begun using on the battlefield and that a private Israeli company provided Ukraine with Russian satellite imagery. garrison positions.
On Wednesday, Ukraine shot down at least nine such drones, according to the Ukrainian military, and the British Ministry of Defense in its daily review of the war assessed that the drones were not responding. meet Russia’s war needs because they are “slow” and “easy to target.”
Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, praised the commitment to new weapons systems on Wednesday, asserting that “a new era of air defense” has begun in Ukraine. But he urged allies to do more.
“There is a moral imperative to protect the skies of Ukraine to save our people,” he said.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Kyiv, Lara Jakes from Rome and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Patrick Kingsley Report contributions from Jerusalem.