U.S. to Send Another Patriot Missile Battery to Ukraine

President Biden has approved the deployment of another Patriot missile system to Ukraine, senior administration and military officials said, as the country struggles to fend off Russian attacks on its cities, infrastructure and electrical grid.

Mr. Biden’s decision came last week, the officials said, after a series of high-level meetings and an internal debate over how to meet Ukraine’s pressing needs for bolstered air defenses without jeopardizing U.S. combat readiness.

The new Patriot system — the second that the United States has sent to Ukraine — will come from Poland, where it has been protecting a rotational force of American troops who will be returning to the United States, officials said.

The system could be deployed to Ukraine’s front lines in the next several days, U.S. officials said, depending on any maintenance or modifications it needs.

Considered one of the United States’ best air-defense weapons, the Patriot includes a powerful radar system and mobile launchers that fire missiles at incoming projectiles.

It is also one of the scarcest weapons systems in the U.S. arsenal. Pentagon officials refuse to disclose how many it has, but one senior military official said that the Army has deployed only 14 of them, in the United States and around the world. American allies also have Patriots, and two of those nations have sent a couple to Ukraine, but U.S. officials say they hope European powers will send more.

Officials describe moving the critical systems around the world’s hot spots like a shell game, assessing which global crisis requires them most to defend U.S. troops, bases and allies.

The demand for Patriots and other air defenses from the Pentagon’s Central Command, which conducts operations in the Middle East, has been especially intense over the past year, and particularly since Hamas’s deadly attack against Israel in October.

That regional threat was underscored in April when Iran fired more than 300 ballistic and cruise missiles, and self-exploding drones, at Israel. A combination of Israeli, American and other allied aerial and ground defenses thwarted most of that assault with relatively few casualties. But it made shifting any Patriot batteries from the region a nonstarter, officials said.

With tensions rising on the Korean Peninsula, moving any Patriot batteries from defending against a possible North Korean attack was also deemed too risky, officials said.

Pentagon officials did not want to move any batteries from the United States. There is a Patriot battery at Fort Sill, Okla., for training American and Ukrainian troops, but moving it would take away training, officials said. Other batteries protecting bases and troops in the United States, including in Hawaii, were either deemed too far away or necessary for homeland defense.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and other senior Pentagon leaders have appealed to European allies to transfer their systems to Ukraine. “There are countries that have Patriots, and so what we’re doing is continuing to engage those countries,” Mr. Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in April. “I have talked to the leaders of several countries,” he added, “encouraging them to give up more capability.”

Two other nations have responded to Ukraine’s plea for more Patriots. Germany has so far deployed one Patriot system, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said a second would be deployed by the end of June. The Netherlands has also deployed a Dutch-American battery in Ukraine, and negotiations are underway to send a second.

Administration officials hope the deployment of another U.S. Patriot system will nudge allies to do the same.

“Ukraine needs more, that’s a fact,” Adm. Rob Bauer, the chairman of NATO’s military committee, said in an interview last week. “Nations that have those weapons systems have to make the decision to take more risk against their own readiness.”

At a news briefing during Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s trip to Kyiv last month, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine urgently needed “seven batteries, of which two batteries are necessary, and they were necessary yesterday, so that we could protect the city of Kharkiv and the entire region of Kharkiv.”

Beyond Kharkiv, Ukraine must take urgent steps to protect Odesa in the south, military analysts said, as well as the country’s electrical grid.

In recent months, a barrage of Russian missile and drone strikes on Ukraine’s power plants and substations has severely hobbled energy infrastructure, forcing Ukrainian authorities to order nationwide rolling blackouts. That has raised concerns about what will happen when the cold weather arrives and the use of heating devices increases the load on the energy system.

U.S. officials said there was relatively little high-level debate over whether to supply Ukraine with another Patriot. But officials said that Mr. Austin and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, debated which of the U.S. Patriots to send.

The two men assessed that the Pentagon could move a Patriot battery in Poland, which had the benefit of being next door to Ukraine.

The issue will come up this week when Mr. Austin and General Brown travel to Belgium for NATO and allied defense meetings.

“I think you can expect to see air defense will, for all the obvious reasons, be a topic of discussion,” Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Monday.

The Patriot is by far the most expensive single weapon system that the United States has supplied to Ukraine, at a total cost of about $1.1 billion: $400 million for the system and $690 million for the missiles.

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