Pending his country’s bid to secure F-16 fighter jets, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asserted that more Patriot air defence systems are needed to “create a sky shield over the European continent.”

“By the time Ukraine receives modern fighter jets from its partners, it must have the means to protect itself from Russian air attack,” the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of Ukraine stated after the country’s head of state addressed media representatives at the second meeting of the European Political Community in Moldova on 1 June.

“Why [the] Patriot? Because Patriots have shown the whole world how it works: we shoot down any type of missile of the Russian Federation. And this is a very important conclusion for the defence of the world, the defence of Europe,” Zelenskyy stated.

The Patriot is a long-range, all-altitude and all-weather air defence system that intercepts tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.

The system is widely used: it defends the US and allied countries including Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Sweden, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Pictured is a patriot air defence system operated by Sgt. Paul George, Pfc. Genesis Vidal, Pfc. Erika Vidal and Pfc. Edgar Alamendarez of the US Army in Slovakia on 9 August 2022. Credit: DVIDS.

Patriots and F-16s

GlobalData land domain analyst, Tristan Sauer, notes that while “both the Patriot and the F-16 fighter provide substantial capabilities by themselves, their combined use in sufficient numbers could enable the Ukrainian Air Force to frustrate various tactics on which the Russian military has relied over the past few months.

“These include the mass deployment of cruise missiles and low-cost explosive drones against both military and civilian infrastructure, and thus potentially force them to operate in a manner more favourable to Ukrainian military objectives.”

However, with only two Patriot batteries active in Ukraine, featuring five to eight launchers per battery, exercising the intended full-fledged capability of both platforms is not something Ukraine’s armed forces can effectively implement.

“The major caveat is that would require a concrete commitment from Ukraine’s western allies to provide and support these systems at sufficient scale in order to enable the Ukrainian Air Force to field this capability effectively. The number of Patriots and F-16s pledged to Ukraine at this point remains below the threshold where they could be useful to this degree,” Sauer continued.

Russian missiles

According to GlobalData intelligence, Russia devotes most of its spending on missiles to its land-based missile systems.

We can expect the country to increase spending on its strategic land-attack missiles from $758m to $1.6bn between 2023-2032, registering a compound annual growth rate of 9.02%.

Lately, Russia has employed a range of different missiles and aerial vehicles against Ukraine.

The UK MoD, in one of its daily conflict updates from 17 May, announced that Ukraine had shot down a Russian ‘Killjoy’ air-launched ballistic missile. This is a significant interception considering the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal (dubbed ‘Killjoy’ by Nato) is a hypersonic missile, meaning it can travel at five times the speed of sound.

“Russia has prioritised attempting to neutralise Ukraine’s improved air defence capabilities, but in the process has likely lost several more Killjoy,” the UK MoD added.

A show of European force

According to the president, Ukraine is the hotbed for the demonstrable effectiveness of the Patriot system.

Ukraine’s integration with European systems is a major focal point for the Ukrainian MoD, which depicted its air defences as interchangable with the air defences of the European continent, stating: “our country is ready to share this experience [of the Patriot] to create a sky shield for the entire European continent.”

“Let’s start with our territory because it’s the hottest: we’re at war. Patriots are working. While we don’t have modern aircraft, we need more Patriots. That is why we need a coalition of Patriots,” Zelenskyy emphasised.

At the moment, Ukraine’s air defence capability is not officially integrated with European capabilities, more specifically Nato’s Integrated Air & Missile Defence mission in any way.

“President Zelenskyy’s reference allusion to a collective ‘sky shield’ indicates his government’s commitment to integrating Ukraine within the wider Nato alliance and contributing to its security and deterrence operations in Europe,” Sauer points out.