A high-tech Patriot air defense system provided to Ukraine suffered damage but is still working, a US defense official said Wednesday.
“The Patriot system remains operational” and the damage — caused by an unspecified projectile landing near it — is still being assessed, the official told AFP.
Ukraine repeatedly pushed for its supporters to provide the Patriot system to help shield against relentless Russian strikes targeting civilians and infrastructure, and the damaged battery is only one of two confirmed to have arrived in the country.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yury Ignat earlier said that “all is fine with the Patriot,” but declined to specify if the sophisticated system had been damaged.
“The Patriot is in service,” Ignat told AFP. “All is well.”
The Russian defense ministry said Tuesday that its forces had struck a Patriot system in Kyiv with a Kinzhal hypersonic missile.
Kyiv announced Ukraine’s air defense shot down six of Russia’s hypersonic missiles, but Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu rejected that claim.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unveiled the Kinzhal in 2018, has termed it “an ideal weapon” that is extremely difficult to intercept.
Kyiv also said it downed a Kinzhal using a Patriot system in the first week of May, describing it as a “historic event.”
– Boosting Ukraine’s air defenses –
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the Patriot system would significantly strengthen Ukraine’s defenses against Russian strikes.
After promising late last year that it would provide a Patriot battery to Ukraine, the United States trained a group of 65 Ukrainian troops on its use in the state of Oklahoma between January and late March.
Made by Raytheon, the MIM-104 Patriot is a surface-to-air missile system initially developed to intercept high-flying aircraft.
It was modified in the 1980s to focus on the new threat of tactical ballistic missiles, and was used in combat against Iraq’s Russian-made Scuds in the first Gulf War.
Ukraine’s air defenses have played a key role in protecting the country from strikes and preventing Moscow’s forces from gaining control of the skies.
But as Russia faced increasing setbacks on the ground, it began systematically targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine in attacks that have disrupted electricity, water and heat to millions of people.
When Russia invaded in February 2022, Ukraine’s air defenses largely consisted of Soviet-era planes and SAM systems.
They have been significantly augmented since the start of the war: in addition to Patriot, the United States provided NASAMS and Germany IRIS-T — two advanced systems — while older equipment such as the S-300 and HAWK systems and Stinger missiles have also been donated.