Home News Europe seeks solution to Ukraine’s ‘patriot dilemma’

Europe seeks solution to Ukraine’s ‘patriot dilemma’

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Europe’s plan to supply Ukraine with another set of Patriot air defense systems to protect its hard-hit cities from Russian airstrikes is taking shape.

The radar and three missile launchers are being provided by the Netherlands. Some of the interceptor missiles come from a four-nation coalition led by Germany. Ukraine has pledged to deploy a mobile fire control center, but officials have not yet said where or by whom it will be deployed. As many as eight countries will provide additional missiles and launchers and train Ukrainians in the use of the advanced system.

“We have all the pieces of the puzzle,” former Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in an interview before she leaves office this week, ushering in a long-awaited transition to a caretaker government. “We just have to put them together.”

This is the “Patriot puzzle,” as NATO officials call the assembled air defense system.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he urgently needs at least seven Patriot missile systems to defend against an attack across the country. President Biden has pledged to deliver five Western air defense systems to Ukraine soon.

Romania has pledged to donate one missile system, following similar pledges from Germany and Italy, and the United States is expected to donate another.

A fifth system could come in a phased approach. For months, the allies have been scouring their arsenals and have come up with a creative, if not foolproof, way to provide another Patriot system: build a complete Patriot system from spare parts donated from around Europe.

“Each of us has limited possibilities,” Ms. Olongren said. Who made this plan? Zelensky first requested the purchase of seven Patriot systems in April. “But if we work together, I think we can achieve this goal.”

The Dutch government will continue the effort under new Defense Minister Ruben Brekelmans, who took office on Tuesday, a spokesman said.

It would be difficult for all NATO members to give up the roughly 90 Patriot surface-to-air missile systems scattered across NATO, two-thirds of which are owned by the United States, according to weapons trackers at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. For smaller European countries that cannot afford the billion-dollar-plus systems, donating even one from their stockpiles would be a risk to their national defense.

Yet providing Ukraine with additional air defense systems is likely to be one of the few tangible commitments announced by the alliance at a high-level meeting of NATO leaders in Washington next week — a pledge that may only partially appease Zelensky.

“They know that we urgently need seven Patriot systems – yes, to save our city,” Zelensky said. Said in Biden held a news conference with him at the Group of Seven meeting in Italy last month. “We discussed the possibility of a Group of Five, that’s true.”

“This does not mean that tomorrow we will have these five systems, but we see that in the near future Ukraine will achieve good results,” Zelensky said in English.

It was Zelenskiy’s request for seven Patriot systems that led Ms. Olungren to explore how to provide another Patriot system, even though the Netherlands’ most senior military officer has said the Netherlands has no spare Patriot systems.

They did have some spare parts, though. As it turns out, some other NATO countries did, too. And those that didn’t have any parts to give but were willing to contribute said they would help fund or train up to 90 Ukrainian soldiers to operate a single Patriot missile battery.

“One of the issues we are exploring right now is the interoperability of systems,” Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonsson said at a NATO conference in Brussels last month. He said Sweden was considering “a range of measures where we can contribute to solving this challenge,” but did not specify specific ones.

Sweden and the Netherlands are among only seven NATO countries in Europe to deploy Patriot systems, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS); the others are Germany, Greece, Poland, Romania and Spain.

The NATO-authorized Turkish air base hosts the Spanish missile launcher, but three other missile launchers stationed by NATO members in Slovakia have been removed by Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S., according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “We have no missile launchers in Slovakia, and we border Ukraine,” Slovak Defense Minister Robert Kalinak said at a NATO meeting last month. He said Slovakia was in talks to buy some missile launchers, but “we need some kind of unity for the next two years, because we have given up all our missile launchers.”

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said his government had done what it could, but other countries could do more. Three of the four Patriot missiles Ukraine already has were donated by Germany. Recently, two more mid-range IRIS-T were donated air defense system, and leads related efforts with the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark Delivered 100 Patriots More interceptor missiles will follow in the coming months.

The United States has the bulk of NATO’s Patriot missile arsenal (62 deployable missile launchers), but has deployed some in the Middle East, primarily to protect U.S. bases and interests from Iranian air strikes, as well as in Japan and South Korea in case of an attack by North Korea or China, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Too Shifting Patriot missile orders from other countries to Ukraine.

Henry Boyd, an air defense expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies who has been tracking Patriot developments around the world, said the Dutch patchwork plan could be a limited solution for Ukraine given that the United States is “stretched to the bone” and Europe is “basically at the bottom of the pile.” But he questioned whether Patriot parts from different countries, which include a range of aging models and software upgrades, could work together.

“There are still a lot of questions about interoperability,” Mr. Boyd said, adding that it was unclear “whether there would be any significant additional work required to achieve that compatibility.”

Ms. Olongren agreed that some parts coming from across Europe might not work right away. “But we also know we can fix that,” she said, adding that the Netherlands had set up a team of technical experts to travel to each donor country to help ensure all parts would fit.

She did not say when the assembled Patriot batteries would be shipped to Ukraine, but did raise the possibility that they could be sent in batches to replace damaged parts of existing systems.

“There are different options,” she said. “We have all the puzzle pieces, but we have to think about what we want the puzzle to look like.”

Building and delivering a Patriot missile system can take up to three years, and U.S. and European officials are trying to speed up production through joint contracts and the construction of a new factory for its manufacturer, Raytheon Co. Until then, Ukraine may soon need to settle for other types of Western air defense systems, even if they are not as accurate or powerful as Patriot missiles, officials said.

Ollongren said the weapons shortage also put pressure on European countries, which were initially reluctant to provide more air defense systems. But earlier this spring, a severe situation in Ukraine and ammunition shortages stalled the U.S. military aid program for six months, prompting her to call for “we to be more creative in what we do.”

“There are always challenges,” she said. But after presenting the Patriot Dilemma, “first of all, everyone realized we had to do this for Ukraine,” she said, “and that everyone could do something.”

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