US tries to speed up delivery of key air defense systems to Ukraine after Iran-supplied drone attacks from Russia
The US Department of Defense is trying to expedite the delivery of two advanced surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine as Russia increasingly uses Iranian-supplied drones that explode on impact to strike the Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.
The Pentagon effort is just the latest evidence of an urgent new push by the United States and its allies to help Ukraine build a comprehensive air and missile defense system to protect against these drones, which have killed four people in an attack on Kyiv on Monday.
Drones have become an increasingly pressing issue for Ukraine, and one that has drawn condemnation from the United States. The State Department said Monday that the drones violated a UN Security Council resolution that restricts certain arms transfers to or from Iran.
With its reserves of precision munitions believed to be running low, Moscow has turned to these errant drones to maintain its ability to strike high-value targets – and terrorize Ukrainian cities – from afar, Western analysts say. In recent days, they have been used to strike energy infrastructure.
Unlike more traditional, larger and faster military drones that return to base after dropping missiles, the drones supplied by Iran are designed to crash into a target and explode, detonating their warhead and destroying the drones. in the process. They are smaller and easier to control than cruise missiles.
The United States does not know exactly how many drones Iran has supplied to Russia, but military analysts say the number is clearly substantial. Russia fired 43 on Monday alone, including 37 shot down by air defense systems, according to the Ukrainian Air Force. A US defense official put the total number in the hundreds.
“The big effect is undoubtedly economic exhaustion, attacking the availability of electricity in Ukraine during the winter and now war all over the country,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies program. at the Naval Analysis Center. “They’re basically using these drones as some kind of poor man’s precision-guided weapon against Ukrainian infrastructure.”
A US defense official told CNN on Monday that the Pentagon is now trying to expedite the delivery of two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS – systems owned by 12 countries and already in use to protect Washington, DC.
The United States has already committed eight NASAMS to Ukraine, two of which are being fast-tracked, according to Pentagon officials.
The United States first announced that it would send two NASAMs to Ukraine on July 1 as part of a Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative military assistance program and announced that they would send six more on August 24.
The systems are currently being manufactured by Raytheon in a joint partnership with Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace of Norway, according to the Pentagon. The United States now hopes to complete manufacture of two of the systems by the end of October or early November – possibly as much as a full month earlier than originally planned.
After the systems are completed, they still need to be transported to Ukraine. The NASAMS will be flown to a neighboring country and then shipped overland to Ukraine.
While they remain deeply concerned about Russia’s success with Iranian drones, sources close to Western intelligence and military analysts say their extensive use reflects a weakness in Russia’s arsenal.
Western officials believe Russia has run out of precision-guided munitions and, according to a source close to Western intelligence, is likely to draw on its strategic reserves to continue the war.
Russia still has plenty of older, less accurate Soviet weaponry, the source said – although it’s unclear how much of the old Soviet stockpile Moscow managed to bring into battle, as the West doesn’t know. how many were sold or stripped for parts. after the cold war.
Yet Ukraine remains deeply vulnerable to air attacks.
At a meeting of allied defense chiefs focused on Ukrainian aid last week, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said the United States and its allies should contribute to the air defense systems they have and then help Ukraine put the systems together. create a full defense.
“Many countries have other systems, there are a whole host of Israeli systems that are quite capable. The Germans have systems like we mentioned, so a lot of countries that were here today have a wide variety of systems,” Milley said.
Milley suggested that if several countries send the air defense systems they have, the Ukrainians can “tie them together” with a command and control and communications system.