U.S. plans to send Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system are underway, Fox News confirmed Tuesday, though Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not formally signed off on the transfer.
The news comes following weeks of speculation that Kyiv may receive the top weaponry after a senior defense official in November said Washington was considering sending Ukraine the system.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday there were no specific plans to send the system, but noted that the U.S. was not ruling it out.
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“We do maintain a robust dialogue with our Ukrainian partners with our allies, and our international partners on Ukraine security assistance needs to include battlefield capabilities,” he told reporters. “In light of Russia’s cruel and continued heavy bombardment of innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, we’ll continue to have those discussions and look at capabilities that they’ll need to defend their territory.”
Ryder said he had nothing more to add when pressed by Fox News on what the holdup was when it came to sending Ukraine the defensive weaponry.
Fox News was told by a U.S. official Tuesday that an announcement is expected to come later this week.
Patriot missiles have been described as a long-range all-weather system that can be used in combat engagements against “manned and unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles,” according to military contractor Raytheon Technologies Corp.
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The decision to send Patriot missile systems could be viewed as less escalatory by Russia than sending a system like the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of roughly 185 miles. The Patriot system has a range of up to 100 miles, according to some reporting.
Russia on Wednesday apparently responded to reports that the U.S. would be announcing the deployment of the advanced missile system imminently and claimed it would become a legitimate target for Russian strikes in Ukraine, according to a Bloomberg reporter – though this warning doesn’t appear to change Moscow’s operational standing.
Russia has increasingly relied on aerial bombardment to hit civilian and military targets alike as its forces stall on the front lines.
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Western defense officials earlier this month additionally warned that Russia may be looking to Iran to send it hundreds of ballistic missiles as its supplies dwindle.
The senior U.S. military official this week also assessed that Russia has exhausted its ammunitions stocks to the extent that even foreign arms will not be able to help it replenish its reserves.