Ukrainian people and cities have been facing constant bombardment since the start of the unprovoked Russian aggression. The bombings have caused widespread devastation with civilians killed, injured, residential buildings destroyed, and critical infrastructure damaged. Russian airstrikes are proving to be the greatest danger to the Ukrainians, who have successfully slowed Russian ground troops' progress. However, the heavy aerial power continues to trouble Ukrainian forces and hinders their resistance to the Russian invasion. On March 2, 2022, Russian forces unleashed aerial bombings in Kherson city, allowing their troops to progress to the city. Further strikes were unleashed on areas near the Chernobyl power plant, allowing Russia to take over control of the power facility. Other strikes targeted television towers intending to shut down any broadcast on the war.
The success of Russian forces in the air reiterates the need to strengthen the Ukrainian air defense system; protect the people and cities against the Russian aerial offensive. Russian aerial offensive was brutal, forcing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy to demand a fraction of the military hardware from NATO and the U.S stockpiles. Several countries promised to send anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles. Still, the Ukrainian president stated that they needed tanks, anti-ship systems, and planes. President Zelenskiyy had earlier called for the closure of Ukrainian Airspace by U.S and NATO allies or immediate delivery of Aircraft and advanced air defense systems to counter Russian air power.
Missile Defense System
In December 2021, a Pentagon Team DOD Assessment of Ukraine and Capital city's current missile defenses as inadequate to defend against Russian air capabilities. The report noted that Ukraine relied on a limited Soviet-era S-300V missile defense systems against estimated 36 Russian Iskander missile systems. Further, Russian poses superior S-400 air defense batteries that provide an additional defensive layer against Ukrainian strike efforts. The current dominance by Russians against Ukraine's missile defense systems is evidence of the limited capability of the country's advanced air and missile defense systems.
The Russian Iskander is proving to be a deadly weapon in the Ukrainian offensive, successfully hitting targets with great devastation. The system's key strength lies in its ability to evade missile defense systems with maneuverable reentry vehicles and decoys. The outmatch in Ukraine is a testament to the need to urgently support the country to bolster the air defense system and protect it from the Russian offensive. NATO Ukraine's neighbors have an S300PMU long-range SAM system, 9K38 Igla2s, and the 2k12 Kub 2M tracking medium-range surface-to-air missile system that assists in air defense. Such defenses can be given to Ukraine to strengthen its defense system against Russian missiles and bombers.
Options Available and Interest
Ben Wallace, UK Secretary of State for Defence, told parliament that the UK is considering donating Starstreak high-velocity man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) missiles to Ukraine following a request from the Ukrainian president. Wallace noted that the system can defend Ukrainian skies and match up to Russian air capabilities. The donation would follow the deliveries of Javelin anti-tank systems and Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAWS) donated to help Ukrainian troops slow down the Russian advance. Zachary Cohen of CNN reported that Slovakia had agreed to provide Russia with a w/S-300 air defense system, according to multiple sources. The support for Ukraine's military equipment request has gone global, and the tide of the war is likely to change as the aerial defense systems are bolstered with donated equipment.
On 16th March 2022, the United States stated that Ukraine would be given a long-range missile defense system and Switchblade armed drones that would enable Ukrainian forces to defend cities against Russian aircrafts and missiles. The military assistance announced by President Biden includes S-300 long-range missile defense system with the ability to shoot down Russian aircraft. It is a huge advantage to Russia as the S-300 is similar to the American U.S Made Patriot system, a fully automated missile launcher, and a ground-based unit that can detect, track, and fire at multiple incoming air threats from long distances. One hundred kamikaze drones are part of the military equipment donation capable of flying bombs directed by the operator and, when ready, plunging on the target and exploding on contact. Matt White, a Military Editor for Coffee or Die and Former Pararescueman in United States Airforce, states that the S-300 system donation to Ukraine will be a game-changer due to the ability to strike high-flying supersonic modern bombers and fighter jets used by Russians from 30 miles distance. It is timely delivery and what Ukraine's troops need to defend their countries against the aerial bombardment.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S Javelin missiles and small arms are already delivering results. A major push by Russia on the seaside city of Odesa was met with resistance from villagers who attacked the Russian armor brigade with defensive positions, small arms, and U.S Javelin missiles. The Journal reported that villagers destroyed 30 Armoured vehicles and killed 100 soldiers. Guardian Reporter Emma Graham-Harrison traveled to Kharviv city, one of the most hit by Russian missiles, and reported that Ukrainians resist Russian attacks in surprising ways. In another incident, an India Today video shows a Ukrainian soldier deploying a javelin missile on a Russian tank destroying it with precision. Due to the resistance from Ukranians, Russia announced on Tuesday, 29th March, it is radically reducing its military activities in Northern Ukraine, possibly due to the increased resistance from armed Ukrainians. However, the announcement is not in good faith, according to Guardian Newspaper Editor Rudi Zygdlo, who notes that the Russian troops may be regrouping and possibly being replaced with new units.
Ukraine Territorial Defense Forces and volunteer fighters are using the new military donations with great effectiveness, slowing down Russian aggression. The anti-missile systems, Switchblade Drones, w/S-300 air defense system, MANPADS, and small arms will inflict massive damage to Russian air and missile systems, slowing down their progress and ultimately forcing them to rethink their mission. Ukrainians have shown great courage and determination to fight for their country against unprovoked attacks by Russia, and the military equipment donations will motivate and bolster their resolve to fight for their country.
United States Patriot Defense System and Alternatives
MIM-104 Patriot is a surface-to-air missile system developed by the United States to provide missile and air defense capabilities at a tactical level in defense of the U.S deployed forces and allies. It has the capability to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft, and its deployment in Ukraine would likely end the Russian aerial offensive. However, the United States reiterated its stand that it will not deploy the Patriot System to Ukraine and instead give another alternative to strengthen Ukraine's defense. Pentagon officials stated that sending Patriot Surface to Air defense system to Ukraine would require U.S military forces to enter Ukraine and operate it, escalating the conflict. The officials noted that Ukrainian forces are not familiar with the Patriot defense system and its technical operations and would require the United States military assistance.
Thomas Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that it takes a long time to be a patriot operator. Hence, no training can be offered quickly to prepare Ukrainian to operate the system. General Mark Kelly, the head of the U.S. Air Forces Air Combat Command, stated that the current Ukrainian air defense units and donated missile systems are capable systems to defend Ukraine's skies. Israel blocked the decision to transfer Iron Dome Missile interceptor systems, fearing escalation of the conflict with a proposal of Poland to transfer MiG-29s to Ukraine, also rejected by the U.S. The fears of escalating the conflict impede the transfer of powerful Air and missile defense systems that would end Russia's aggression. However, the defense of Ukrainian civilians from unjustified attacks by Russian forces should not be determined by Russia's feelings, rather by the need to protect human life.
The United States and NATO should continue to donate air and missile defense systems to help Ukrainians bolster their defense. Ukrainians have shown courage and determination to face the Russians using smaller weapons, and air and missile defense systems would be a game-changer in the war. Despite the failure of the administration to approve the deployment of MiG-29s, some lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee demand to be briefed on the intelligence behind the refusal to provide Ukraine with advanced weapons systems on grounds it would provoke Russia. Ukraine skies must be protected against Russian attacks directed at civilian areas, critical infrastructure, and government buildings, and Russia's concerns should not be a priority. Russia is engaging in the unjustified invasion of Ukraine, and hence protecting Ukrainians should be the priority of the NATO and United States. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that 74% of Americans support U.S government military support to Ukraine and view the conflict as Russian aggression. De-escalation is necessary but should not impede the necessity of empowering Ukraine forces to defend their skies against Russian bombers and missiles.
Geofrey Robert is an experienced freelance researcher and writer with over five years of experience. He holds a Bachelor of law from Kenyatta University (Nairobi, Kenya). His research interests are: International law, Peace & Security, Conflict, humanitarian issues, and climate change. He worked as a peace and security news writer for Peacehumanity.org. and also contributed to their periodic PEACE MONITOR MAGAZINE as a peace researcher and writer focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict.