US to provide Patriot missiles to Ukraine as part of $6bn defence aid

New weapons seen as crucial as Kyiv faces dire battlefield conditions and ammunition shortage amid Russian military gains.

U.S. Army MIM-104 Patriots, surface-to-air missile (SAM) system launchers, are pictured at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Poland March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND

US defence chief Lloyd Austin says the US is working with allies to source additional Patriot systems but refuses to commit to sending more US versions to Ukraine [File: Stringer/Reuters]

The United States says it will supply Patriot air defence missile systems to Ukraine as part of a $6bn additional aid package, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Friday, calling it the largest security assistance package to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion in 2022.

The package is the second this week after President Joe Biden signed a much-delayed bill to provide a total of $61bn of new funding for Ukraine.

The package also includes more munitions for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, and additional gear to integrate Western air defence launchers, missiles and radars into Ukraine’s existing weaponry, much of which still dates back to the Soviet era.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the need for Patriots early on Friday with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a coalition of about 50 countries gathering virtually in a Pentagon-led meeting.

The meeting fell on the second anniversary of the group, which Austin said has “moved heaven and Earth” since April 2022 to source millions of rounds of ammunition, rocket systems, armoured vehicles and even jets to help Ukraine rebuff Russia.

Zelenskyy had said that at least seven Patriot systems are needed to protect Ukrainian cities.

“We urgently need Patriot systems and missiles for them,” Zelenskyy said. “This is what can and should save lives right now.”

Senior US officials have described dire battlefield conditions in Ukraine, as troops run low on munitions and Russian forces make gains.

Reluctant allies

At a Pentagon news conference following the meeting, Austin said the US was working with allies to resource additional Patriot systems but did not commit to sending more US versions.

He said he has been speaking one-on-one with a number of his European counterparts in recent days to hash out this issue and others.

“It’s not just Patriots that they need, they need other types of systems and interceptors as well,” Austin said. “I would caution us all in terms of making Patriot the silver bullet.”

Austin said he is asking allied nations to “accept a little bit more risk” as they consider what weapons to send to Ukraine.

A number of nations have expressed some reluctance to send Patriot air defence systems to Ukraine because most do not have very many, and they believe they need them for their own defence.

The new US funding also includes High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, as well as Switchblade and Puma drones, counter-drone systems and artillery.

Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the US has sent more than $44bn worth of weapons, maintenance, training and spare parts to Ukraine.

Among the weapons provided to Ukraine were Abrams M1A1 battle tanks.

But Ukraine has now sidelined them in part because Russian drone warfare has made it too difficult for them to operate without detection or coming under attack, two US military officials told AP news agency.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies