Patriot vs. European Alternatives: Why Ukraine’s Choice is Clear in the Fight Against Russia

Ukraine urgently seeks additional Patriot air defense systems for their superior capabilities, as the US prioritizes missile deliveries to Kyiv and Romania pledges to donate a system, highlighting the critical role of advanced air defense in the ongoing conflict.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urgently underscored the need for at least seven additional Patriot batteries in his country. In response, the United States has pledged to send another Patriot battery to Ukraine, with a search underway for additional systems from allies. Currently, Ukraine is equipped with a minimum of three Patriot batteries.

While certain European systems may offer advantages in terms of cost or mobility, the Patriot system’s superior range and altitude capabilities are of paramount importance in Ukraine’s unique threat environment. This environment is characterized by a mix of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft, making the Patriot system’s capabilities particularly appealing.

Here is a comparison of the Patriot system’s range and altitude capabilities to some European alternatives:

  1. Patriot (PAC-3 MSE variant):
    • Range: Up to 160 km
    • Altitude: Up to 40 km
  2. SAMP/T (European):
    • Range: Around 100 km
    • Altitude: Up to 25 km
  3. IRIS-T SLM (German):
    • Range: Up to 40 km
    • Altitude: Up to 20 km
  4. NASAMS (Norwegian/American):
    • Range: Up to 40 km
    • Altitude: Up to 14 km

As seen above, the Patriot system stands out from European alternatives due to its superior altitude and range capabilities. This extended reach is not just a feature, but a necessity for several reasons:

Early interception: The extended range enables the earlier engagement of incoming threats, allowing for the possibility of multiple intercept attempts if necessary.

Ballistic missile defense: The capacity to intercept ballistic missiles, which travel on a high-arc trajectory, is contingent upon the presence of a higher altitude capability.

Wider coverage: A single Patriot battery has the potential to reduce the number of systems required by safeguarding a larger area.

Standoff capability: The system’s survivability is improved by the ability to be positioned further from the front lines due to the extended range.

Cruise missile defense: The Patriot’s range enables it to engage these threats from a greater distance despite the fact that cruise missiles typically fly at lower altitudes.  

Effectiveness: Patriot systems have a demonstrated track record of effectively intercepting a diverse array of Russian aircraft and weaponry, including ballistic missiles and, allegedly, even the hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile.

Interoperability: Patriot systems are engineered to operate in unison with other Western air defense systems, guaranteeing a cohesive and efficient defense against Russian attacks.

Availability: The United States has a greater inventory of Patriot systems and can deliver them more rapidly than European countries, which are still in the process of establishing their own air defense capabilities.

Training and Support: The United States has a well-established training program for Patriot operators, which guarantees that Ukrainian forces can use the systems in a timely and efficient manner.

US Accelerates Supply

The Biden Administration is accelerating the delivery of interceptor missiles for the Patriot system to Kyiv, temporarily halting supplies to other allies, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing American officials.

Biden hinted at this decision last week during the G7 meeting in Puglia, stating, “Those countries expecting air defense systems from us in the future will have to wait.”

The decision to redirect anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, which is facing intensified Russian attacks in the northeast, reflects the production limits of Western defense industries, the WSJ notes. Although the Administration has not disclosed how many interceptor missiles will be sent, a senior US official announced that Ukraine will be prioritized over the next 16 months, and the missiles will be delivered to Kyiv as soon as they come off the production line. Ukraine will receive interceptors for both the Patriot and Nasam systems.

According to a Congressional official, nations with contracts for purchasing interceptors, such as South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, will likely be affected by the US Administration’s decision.

During a briefing, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized that the Biden administration “made this difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize the planned short-term deliveries of military sales to other countries, particularly Patriot and Nasam missiles, to benefit Ukraine.”

“We have, of course, informed all affected countries of this extraordinary measure and are making every effort to minimize any negative impact,” Kirby added, explaining that there would be no consequences for arms supplies to Israel.

Romanian Donation

Romania, a NATO member country, has announced it will donate a Patriot air defense system to Ukraine. “Considering the significant deterioration of the security situation in Ukraine, the members of the Council have decided to donate a Patriot system to Ukraine in close coordination with the allies,” the Bucharest National Supreme Defense Council stated.

The decision was made “on the condition that our country continues negotiations with allies, particularly the United States, with the aim of obtaining a similar or equivalent system” to protect its own airspace, the Council added. It noted that Romania, which borders Ukraine, also needs “a temporary solution to cover the operational vulnerability that has arisen.”


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