Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said last week that the Patriot missile system is “the strongest element” of the new $1.8 billion U.S. military aid package headed to Kyiv. What can the missile do, and how can it help Ukraine fend off continued attacks from Russia?
The Patriot missile system was first developed in the 1960s under the acronym SAM-D, and was initially designed as an antiaircraft weapon.
By the 1980s the Patriot was redesigned to target incoming enemy missiles. Today, the latest iterations of the antimissile system can track incoming targets from up to 100 kilometers away and destroy them within 40 kilometers from the launcher. The latest Patriot missiles employ high-precision “hit-to-kill” targeting in which the missile explodes on impact, rather than in the vicinity of an enemy projectile.
A Patriot battery consists of an entire convoy that includes radar and control-station vehicles as well as a “power plant” truck fitted with generators, and the missile launch stations. Around 90 people are required to operate a battery but once set up, a Patriot system can function with a skeleton crew of three people.
Ukraine has long called for the supply of Patriots to bolster a sometimes-overwhelmed array of antimissile defenses that have included Soviet-designed systems, as well as old U.S. HAWK air-defense missiles.
The supply is sent as Western countries contribute other weapons to Ukraine, including self-propelled artillery. One such weapon is the German PzH 2000, which has a maximum off-road speed of 28 miles an hour and fires accurate rapid shots. This allows personnel to fire and leave the area before the enemy has time to fix its target and return fire.
Regarding the Patriot, some experts say the real-world impact of the Patriot system will be limited due to the relatively small protective “dome” it provides, and its high cost of around $4 million per missile. Iranian-made “suicide drones” that Russia has launched at Ukrainian cities are estimated to cost as little as $20,000-$50,000 each.
A military official familiar with the Patriot system told Time that one battery could protect a single facility like a military base, or a suburb of a city, but not a whole metropolis like Kyiv. The unnamed official said that a single Patriot battery “would not change the course of the war.”
Another expert told CNN the system could be used selectively to go after powerful Russian weapons — such as Kalibr cruise missiles — thus freeing up other, less-expensive air defenses to target smaller attack drones.
Operators will reportedly be trained for use of the weapon in Germany, a process that usually takes months, experts said.
The Kremlin reacted to earlier reports the weapon would be provided to Ukraine by saying the Patriot system would be a “definite” target for Russia once set up inside Ukraine.
Reported by RFE/RL and British Armed Forces.