Russian Forces Take Out U.S.-Supplied Patriot Missile System in Ukraine: Can They Be Replaced?

Russian forces have successfully targeted an MIM-104 Patriot air defence system operated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, with components hit in recent missile strikes including a surface to air missile launcher, ammunition, and various unspecified other components. The Russian Defence Ministry reported on February 23 that these strikes had occurred over the past week, elaborating: “As a result of a group strike, the Missile Troops of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have hit a launcher, a truck, ammunition and a missile reload trailer transporter of the U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air missile system.” It remains uncertain which assets Russia used to neutralise the Patriots, as while Russian state media has been quick to report when high profile systems such as new Kinzhal ballistic missiles are used in combat, for older more widely used assets such as Iskander-M tactical missile systems or Kh-31P anti radiation missiles their use has usually not been confirmed. Patriot missile systems are notably thought to be manned by foreign contractors, as their delivery time was only a fraction of the time required to train Ukrainian personnel on the highly complex assets. Western personnel have played very widespread roles on the ground bolstering the Ukrainian war effort including widely operating newly supplied hardware. 

Ukrainian sources have repeatedly claimed that Patriots have gained significant successes against both Russian aircraft and missiles since they became operational in May 2023. The Russian Defence Ministry notably previously claimed that one of these systems was destroyed a strike on the Ukrainian capital Kiev on May 16 using Kinzhal ballistic missiles. The ministry on May 18 reported regarding the damage to the system: “According to verified information, as a result of a strike by the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in the city of Kiev a multifunctional radar station, as well as five launchers of the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system manufactured by the United States were hit and completely destroyed on May 16, 2023.” Ukraine had received two Patriot systems, with the first delivered by Germany and the Netherlands in mid April less than a month before the strike, and the second by the United States later that month.  

Ukraine’s ability to replenish not only destroyed parts of Patriot systems, but even expended ammunition, has been severely restricted by the United States’ freeze on further arms supplies to the country from late December due to growing discontent in Republican states regarding the immense cost of sustaining the war effort. This has been further exacerbated by the fact that the U.S. Military is facing serious shortages of Patriot systems for its own use, which was highlighted by the sudden increase in requirements for such defences from October 2023 following an escalation of attacks on American facilities across the Middle East. This was a result of high tensions as Washington strongly backed its strategic partner Israel against multiple regional actors with significant anti surface missile capabilities, which has led to U.S. forces taking dozens of casualties on the ground.