Patriots and F-16, Ukraine's most coveted weapons to counter new wave of Russian attacks | International

While the Allies pick the daisy the distance at which Ukrainian artillery can fire on Russian territory, In recent weeks, Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has been insisting that its partners at least give it something to fend off the missiles launched by Moscow: air defense systems. The equation is simple. Russia fires long-range projectiles, like the KH101 that struck the Oymatdit children’s hospital in Kiev on Monday, from points far removed from Ukrainian fire capabilities. And it does so with an intensity and tactical flexibility that saturates Ukraine’s defensive shield.

The allies responded and signed their commitment at the NATO meeting in Washington on Tuesday, so that Kiev did the same five new batteries for the defense of the country as soon as possible. In addition, US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the first F-16 fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands are on their way and will be operational this summer. These devices, which are still insufficient to make a difference on the front lines, can be used defensively, either to intercept enemy missiles or as a deterrent against possible attacks by Russian fighters.

Even the best defense shields, consisting of localization and tracking radars, plus fixed or mobile batteries of surface-to-air interceptor missiles, have their cracks. Of the 38 projectiles launched by Russian forces on Monday morning, eight managed to hit Ukrainian territory, several of them in the capital Kiev, considered the country's best-protected city. More than 30 people lost their lives in this city, the highest number of fatalities since December 2023.

“Every day, Ukraine is exposed to massive attacks by Russian missiles and drones, most of which are destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses,” Dmitro Zhmailo, a military expert at the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center (USCC), explained in an email. (in its acronym in English). “This is made possible by the established system of echelon protection, which includes the use of various types of Western and Soviet-made weapons, from the use of mobile firing groups armed with large-caliber machine guns to combat drones to high-speed weapons. the patriot to destroy cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.”

Civilian deaths cause enormous pain, but this is also accompanied by a growing sense of vulnerability among the civilian population. This is also where the importance of air defense systems lies. As explained on Wednesday by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, headed by Rustem Umerov, the aid announced by the Alliance includes additional Patriot batteries, the SAMP-T system and components for their operation. In total, Kiev will be able to set up five new air defense structures. According to USCC analysts, the arrival of another 25 Patriots (or a similar model) would be necessary to cope with the current intensity of Russian fire. “They will help protect our cities, citizens and critical infrastructure,” Umerov said of the new allied package, which is supported by the United States, Germany, Romania, the Netherlands and Italy.

Rescuers worked Tuesday at the Oymatdit Children's Hospital in Kiev, which was hit by a Russian missile.
MAXYM MARUSENKO (EFE)

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In addition, and according to this ministry, NATO partners will transfer dozens of tactical air defense systems in the coming months – they protect the backs of the Patriot, the jewel in the crown –, such as NASAMS (US-Norway), HAWK (US), IRIS (European consortium) and Gepard (Germany). Kiev already has all these models, but they are not enough and they need ammunition.

The Russian attack on the Oymatdit children's hospital, the largest in all of Ukraine, is a good example of the relevance of protecting the country's airspace. Based on the footage recorded at the time of the bombing and spread on social networks, weapons experts and audiovisual verification projects such as Bellingcat have concluded that the projectile that hit the toxicology area of ​​the center It was a KH101. It is a cruise missile with speeds between 700 and 900 kilometers per hour and a target range of up to 2,800 kilometers. That means Russian forces can launch it from what is already known as their sanctuarythe area beyond the range of Ukrainian artillery.

KH101 has been analyzed and stripped by forensic experts on numerous occasions –Contains Western made parts– and yet it continues to reach Ukrainian territory. Cruise missiles pose an additional challenge to defense systems: they travel at low altitude, on a flexible, guided path, which is difficult to intercept. But the defense mechanisms that Kiev has to protect itself should be sufficient. However, according to the recording, the fall of the projectile, with a very pronounced downward angle, suggests that it was not traveling at low altitude.

This Monday, Russia launched a massive combined attack of its Tu-95MS fighters, with cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and guided bombs. He did it early in the day, which was unusual, and after demanding great efforts from the air defense batteries with drones and missiles in the previous days. It came from almost all sides.

“The Ukrainian Air Force,” Zhmailo notes, “stated that the main problem was that Russian missiles flew at extremely low altitudes, sometimes at a height of 50 meters, which greatly complicates the timely detection and destruction of such targets. In addition, this type of missile has been enhanced with additional protection, including radars and thermal traps.” The USCC analyst adds that the “logic” of the defense is not focused on protecting a hospital, but a priori, from a competitor's list of objectives.

Last Tuesday, during the opening of the NATO summit in Washington, Biden announced the shipment of the five new defense systems that would be included “immediately” to protect Ukraine. However, this immediacy usually depends on the prior training of the Ukrainian personnel who will use them. However, their arrival will help prevent massacres like Monday’s, and will not only strengthen the feeling of protection of the civilian population. This is temporary, because they are finite resources that also compete with the production of munitions in Russia, which continues to grow in factories such as the KH101, which multiplied the number of units by eight last year.

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