TechPatriot system losses in Donetsk pose challenge for Ukraine's defense

Patriot system losses in Donetsk pose challenge for Ukraine's defense

One of the wrecks is most likely a launcher of the Patriot system after being hit by an Iskander-M.
One of the wrecks is most likely a launcher of the Patriot system after being hit by an Iskander-M.
Images source: © X (dawniej Twitter) | Jarosław Wolski
1:56 PM EDT, March 10, 2024

Defense analyst Jarosław Wolski shared on his X profile that Ukraine likely suffered the loss of at least three Patriot system launchers, or even more troubling, two launchers along with a command vehicle.

The relocation of this medium-range air defense system to the Avdiivka region aimed to protect against Russian aircraft deploying glide bombs from high altitudes over considerable distances. This strategy had been instrumental in inflicting significant losses on Russian aviation. However, Wolski points out a critical shift: the Russians modified drone transmissions to pinpoint and swiftly target valuable assets, enhancing their offensive capability.

The so-called "chain of death" procedure from target detection to destruction by the Russians has seen substantial improvements over the months. A notable casualty of this enhanced strategy is the recent loss of an M142 HIMARS by Ukrainian forces.

If the impact was limited to three launchers, Ukraine could relatively easily mitigate this by reallocating units from another battery, with hopes of Western reinforcements arriving in the forthcoming weeks or months. However, the loss of a radar or command vehicle, central to the battery's operation, renders the remaining launchers ineffective despite being undamaged. Replacing a command vehicle proves challenging due to its scarcity and the irreplaceable value of its specialized crew.

The Patriot System in Ukraine — A Cold War Legacy

Ukraine has received three Patriot batteries, two from Germany and one from the USA, with the casualty inflicted by Russia believed to be one of the German-supplied units. Alongside an SAMP/T system from France and Italy and Soviet-era S-300 systems, these batteries serve as Ukraine's defense against ballistic missiles, P-800 Oniks missiles, and high-altitude aircraft releasing glide bombs.

The German and American Patriot batteries employ the AN/MPQ-53 radar system, capable of detecting targets at a range of about 105 miles for aircraft at altitudes above 0.6 miles. This necessitates coordination with short-range defense systems like NASAMS or Gepard for low-altitude threats such as missiles or drones.

The AN/MPQ-53 radar's sectorial design, with a 120-degree field of detection, struggles against multi-directional attacks. Employing a second radar can extend coverage to 240 degrees, but only the introduction of new LTAMDS radars offering 360-degree coverage, chosen by Poland among others, will fully address this vulnerability.

Ukraine deploys the PAC-3 CRI missile, a cost-effective variant of the PAC-3 MSE, designed for kinetic destruction of aircraft up to about 75 miles away and ballistic targets around 25 miles distant. Additionally, the older PAC-2 GEM-T missiles, which use fragmentation warheads for targets up to roughly 100 miles away, are also utilized.

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