NATO allies are fighting to secure air defense systems for Ukraine

Nato allies are struggling to secure sufficient air defense systems to meet Ukraine’s demands for additional support, Western officials have admitted, while Kyiv is arguing for better protection from Russian missile strikes.

Ukraine has identified procuring air defense systems from the West to launch missiles, planes and armed drones as its top priority after a mass shelling of its major cities on Monday that killed at least 10 civilians.

Germany this week delivered the first of four Iris-T air defense systems to Ukraine, while US President Joe Biden pledged to continue providing “advanced” air defenses after talks with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy following Monday’s attacks.

Officials from nearly 50 countries met in Brussels on Wednesday to coordinate how to continue meeting Kiev’s need to protect its citizens and troops from Russian attacks.

Participating countries have pledged to provide nearly $40 billion in arms and defense funds to Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of the country in February. Zelenskyy urged G7 leaders on Tuesday to speed up supplies and help set up an “air shield” for Ukraine.

“It’s certainly not a question of lack of will,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday when asked why the allies weren’t sending air defense systems faster. “Countries will do whatever they can to create additional capabilities.”

Noting the US and Germany’s pledges to send air defense technology, he said some countries have volunteered to send munitions for the US system.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said at the same news conference Washington has asked allies to commit to deploying systems from their stockpiles, including older air defense technology.

He called on the countries represented at the conference to “get involved and help [Ukraine] Rebuild and maintain an integrated anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system, especially older systems.” He said this will “take a little while”.

Ukraine specifically asked for the Cold War-era Hawk medium-range missile defense system, Milley said, hinting that some countries have Patriot systems they could contribute and highlighting Israel’s air defenses as a possible option.

Israeli officials are unlikely to support this, wanting to maintain good relations with Russia that will allow the country to operate freely in Syria.

Western officials have agreed on the need for more air defense systems and are seeking help, but obtaining them quickly has been a challenge. The US and other Western powers were working to find systems that could be postponed, two senior Western officials said, amid production shortages in the West and overstocked inventories.

“Countries have already provided some, but there is a lack of production capacity,” said one of the officials, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the talks. The person added that some NATO members themselves are facing years of delays for their own air defense platforms.

NATO countries, including Poland and the United Kingdom, have provided Ukraine with air defense platforms since February, ranging from man-portable rocket launchers to more complex truck-mounted systems. This has created a patchwork of protection alongside Ukraine’s own post-Soviet systems like the S-300.

The US has pledged to deliver two platforms of its National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMs) over the next two months, as well as six others arriving over the longer term, officials said.

While Ukraine’s existing systems were capable of shooting down 41 of the more than 80 missiles Russia fired at its cities on Monday, officials and analysts said there aren’t enough to protect civilian centers and troops on the front lines from Russian ones protect against attacks.

“The allies have provided air defenses, but we need more. We need different types of air defense. . . different systems for different tasks,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday.

He continued: “Ukraine is a big country [with] many cities. So we need to scale up to help Ukraine defend more cities and territory against horrific Russian attacks on its civilian population.” NATO allies are fighting to secure air defense systems for Ukraine

Adam Bradshaw

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