About 100 Ukrainian troops will head to the United States as soon as next week to begin training on the Patriot missile defence system, getting Kyiv closer to obtaining a long-sought protection against Russia’s continued missile attacks.
Ukraine has requested that the US provide the Patriot surface-to-air guided missile defence system for months because it can target aircraft, cruise missiles, and shorter-range ballistic missiles.
During his late December visit to the US, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the battery would make a significant difference in bolstering Kyiv’s defences against Russia’s invasion.
The number of Ukrainians coming to Fort Sill in Oklahoma state is about the number it takes to operate one battery. They will also learn to maintain the Patriot batteries, Pentagon spokesman Air Force General Pat Ryder said on Tuesday.
Kyiv’s decision to take troops off the battlefield to train across the Atlantic in the US is unusual, although it has sent forces for short-term training at European bases for other more complex systems it has received, such as on the longer-range High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
Patriot training normally can take several months but “the longer those troops are off the line, they’re not actually engaged in combat”, Ryder said, so the training will be shortened.
The US pledged one Patriot battery in December as part of one of several large military assistance packages it has provided Ukraine in recent weeks. Last week Germany pledged an additional Patriot battery.
Each Patriot battery consists of a truck-mounted launching system with eight launchers that can hold up to four missile interceptors each, a ground radar, a control station and a generator. The US Army said it currently has 16 Patriot battalions.
The Patriot batteries will complement a variety of air defence systems that both the US and NATO partners have pledged to Ukraine, as it faces an evolving barrage of missiles and drones against its civilian population and infrastructure from Russia in the nearly 11-month-old conflict.
In the last few months, Germany has pledged four IRIS-T air defence systems, the US has also offered eight mid-range National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, and Avenger air defence systems.
The need for the West to supply Ukraine with an increased number of modern weapons is critical because Russia is gathering forces for another escalation, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday.
“The free world has everything necessary to stop Russian aggression and bring about a historic defeat for the terrorist state,” he said in a video address.