WASHINGTON — The U.S. is poised to approve sending a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, three U.S. defense officials said Tuesday, finally agreeing to an urgent request from Ukrainian leaders desperate for more robust weapons to shoot down incoming Russian missiles.
Approval by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is likely to come later this week, and it could be announced as early as Thursday, the officials said. Two defense officials said the missile battery will come from Defense Department stocks and be moved from another country overseas.
Officials indicated late last month that provision of the system was being discussed. A senior defense official said all air defense capabilities were “on the table” and then said, “Patriot is one of the air defense capabilities that is being considered.” The sticking point at the time was who would provide it.
According to officials, the U.S. plan would be to send one Patriot battery. A truck-mounter Patriot battery includes up to eight launchers, each of which can hold four missiles.
The entire system, which includes a phased array radar, a control station, computers and generators, typically requires about 90 soldiers to operate and maintain; however, only three soldiers are needed to actually fire it, according to the Army.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed Western leaders as recently as Monday to provide more advanced weapons to help his country in its war with Russia. The Patriot would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has provided to Ukraine to help repel Russian aerial attacks.
In a video conference Monday, Zelenskyy told host Germany and other leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers that his country needed long-range missiles, modern tanks, artillery, missile batteries and other high-tech air defense systems to counter Russian attacks that have knocked out electricity and water supplies for millions of Ukrainians.
He acknowledged, “Unfortunately, Russia still has an advantage in artillery and missiles.” And he said protecting Ukraine’s energy facilities from Russian missiles and Iranian drones “will be the protection of the whole of Europe, since with these strikes Russia is provoking a humanitarian and migration catastrophe not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire E.U.”
White House and Pentagon leaders have said consistently that providing Ukraine with additional air defenses is a priority, and Patriot missiles have been under consideration for some time. Officials said that as the winter closed in and the Russian bombardment of civilian infrastructure escalated, the consideration took on increased priority.
Pentagon and State Department officials would not confirm the plan to provide Patriots to Ukraine at briefings Tuesday.
The administration’s potential approval of a Patriot battery was first reported by CNN.
U.S. officials had balked at providing the weapons to Ukraine because they could be considered an escalation that would trigger a response from Moscow. The Patriot also requires significant training, and there were concerns that U.S. troops would have been required to operate it. President Joe Biden has flatly rejected sending any U.S. combat troops to Ukraine.
Patriot missile systems and other similar sophisticated surface-to-air weapons are in major demand among U.S. allies, including eastern European countries worried that they could be Russia’s next targets. The U.S. has a limited number of the systems, and it has deployed them across the Middle East and Europe in recent years to help allies protect against the threat of incoming ballistic missiles from countries such as Iran.