Japanese Patriot Missile Systems May Soon Arrive in Ukraine After Recent Losses to Russian Strikes: U.S. Arsenal Stretched Too Thin For New Transfers

On March 20 the Russian Foreign Ministry was confirmed to have issued a warning to the Japanese government of consequences should the country transfer Patriot missile systems to the United States, after which they are expected to be forwarded to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The White House in December confirmed Japanese authorities had decided to the transfer of Patriot missiles, with the use of the U.S. as an intermediary rather than sending the missile systems to a war zone directly serving to lower resistance in Japan. Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Third Asia Department, Sergey Zhestkii observed regarding the warning issued: “When in December 2023 the administration of [Japanese Prime Minister] Fumio Kishida achieved a legislative relaxation of national rules for the export of military products – for the sake of supplying Patriot missiles assembled in the country under license to Washington – we directly warned the Japanese side through Ambassador to Moscow Muto [Akira] that we have no doubt about the ultimate beneficiary of such a decision – the Kiev regime.” “Such an assistance in further pumping up the Ukrainian armed forces with weapons will be unequivocally regarded as Tokyo’s complicity in Kiev’s criminal actions, which only lead to an increase in the number of victims,” he stated, reflecting the general consensus in the Russian government in line with multiple official statements over the past two years. 

The possible delivery of Patriot missile systems from Japan to Ukraine comes as the weakening of the Eastern European country’s air defence capabilities has been cause for growing concern in the Western world. Most recently, Ukrainian forces on March 8 lost MIM-104 Patriot and S-300 air defence systems near the town of Pokrovsk in the disputed Donbas region to a precision strike by a Russian Iskander-M ballistic missile systems. Russian forces previously reported two successful strikes destroying Patriot systems over the past year, although unlike the March 8 strike these were not as clearly confirmed by drone footage as their reported locations were much further from the frontlines and were achieved using longer ranged assets. U.S. officials speaking to the Washington Post following the March 8 strike warned of a “catastrophic breakdown of Ukrainian lines in the grimmest contingency and the likelihood of massive casualties in the best,” with sources speaking to the paper stressing that a lack of air defence missiles would “have a significant effect on life in Ukraine’s urban centres.” As early as April 2023 leaked Pentagon documents revealed rising concerns regarding the state of the Ukrainian Air Force’s surface to air missile network, which was at risk of becoming “completely reduced.” 

The ability to acquire Patriot systems from Japan is highly valuable as the United States has struggled with severe shortages of air defence systems for its own forces. The United States Military’s growing involvement in ongoing hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militia groups in the Gaza Strip and a broader surge in the country’s regional military presence highlighted the growing strain on its air defences. An insufficient number of American Patriots have been thinly stretched between the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Pacific – all theatres where adversary missile capabilities have grown considerably. The U.S. Army deployed two of its 15 frontline Patriot battalions to the Middle East, with two more battalions dedicated to training, and at least four more deployed in Germany, Japan and South Korea. The donation of Patriot systems to Ukraine was already a point of controversy because of this, making diversion of any more of the U.S. Army’s arsenal to the country appear unlikely. Japan’s willingness to dispatch Patriot systems for use in Ukraine has been interpreted by a number of analysts as an indication of Washington and other Western countries’ considerable influence over Tokyo, which not only has a much more limited direct interest in the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian War, but itself faces challenges from fast modernising Russian, Chinese and particularly North Korean missile forces near its territory.