NATO rushes to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses – and itself

Meanwhile, 14 alliance members – plus Finland – on Thursday announced an ambitious effort to build a new interconnected missile defense system that spans the entire continent, which officials said was critical after seeing the violence that Russia unleashed on Ukrainian cities. .

« This commitment is even more crucial today, as we witness Russia’s ruthless and indiscriminate missile attacks in Ukraine killing civilians and destroying critical infrastructure, » said NATO Assistant Secretary General Mircea. Geoana, after the announcement.

Dubbed Europe’s Sky Shield initiative, member nations are tasked with purchasing state-of-the-art missile defense systems and networking them with other nations’ systems to give the alliance a complete picture of Russian threats emanating from the sky.

Announcing the plan, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht noted existing « gaps » in European air defence. « We need to close these gaps quickly, these are threatening and dangerous times, » she said.

The United States does not currently play a significant role in Sky Shield, but it already operates two Aegis Ashore ballistic missile sites in Romania and Poland, which focus on the potential Iranian ballistic missile threat.

The details are thin, but the complexity of the effort is clear. « The most important task is probably how to link all these systems together, » Latvian State Secretary Janis Garisons told POLITICO after the deal was signed. It will take time and effort to build a « common image to ensure it’s interoperable, and that could be the big challenge. »

Kajsa Ollongren, Minister of Defense of the Netherlands, told reporters that « the importance of what we did this morning was to say that we know we have to do more, and we want the industry to do it. also more and be ahead of the development of the air ». defense systems. And we also realize that we shouldn’t do it country by country, so we’re joining forces.

Any functioning network will almost certainly take years to develop and deploy, as sophisticated air defense systems are both expensive and slow to build. Advanced networking systems and developing rules for sharing data and information will be another hurdle for countries that have sometimes been reluctant to share such sensitive information.

Combining this effort with the drive to give away more NATO-caliber weapons immediately will likely force countries to make some tough choices about where to put their money. But the destruction Russia is inflicting on Ukrainian civilians has changed European thinking, showing the continent what industrial-scale warfare looks like for the first time since World War II.

The recent appointment by the Kremlin of General Sergei Surovikin to lead the war effort was also noted. « His nickname is ‘General Armageddon’ and he certainly earned it during the air campaign in Syria, » a NATO official told reporters on the sidelines of meetings on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. because of the basic rules in force.

The new air defense systems sent to Ukraine are a « signal to Putin that the only thing he achieves by making these attacks on civilian infrastructure and on completely innocent citizens is that we are stepping up our efforts to help the Ukraine, » Ollongren said. « And for Ukraine, if air defenses are what they need, air defenses are what they’re going to get. »

NATO officials said this week they were learning the lessons of the war and hastily taking stock of the amount of ammunition left in European depots after months of bringing in artillery, anti-armour rockets and ammunition to Ukraine. One of the lessons is the number of artillery rounds Ukraine fires and the effect it has on Russian units and equipment, a critical data point in planning overall defense spending.

In Ukraine, where Russian forces have already used most of their precision-guided cruise missiles, the threat to civilians increases with each unguided missile launch from ships in the Black Sea and bombers flying inside Russian airspace.

Russian barrages against civilians « will continue », the senior NATO official said, adding that the introduction of Iranian-made Mohajer-6 and Shahed drones « has put a strain on Ukraine’s air defences ». They’re just harder to detect and you don’t want to waste [high end] defensive systems” on cheap targets with limited destructive capability.

German defense chief Lambrecht gave details of what she thinks the European air defense program should take into account. « We will quickly work on the first joint projects, the joint purchase of Patriot units is part of this as well as the modern IRIS-T system », a system that Germany has recently started to supply to Ukraine. The first of four IRIS-T units has already arrived in Ukraine.

The Patriot and IRIS-T would be effective against lower or mid-level missiles. She also mentioned the Israeli-made Arrow 3 for higher-flying missiles.

« No decision has been made yet, but I think [Arrow 3] would be the right system… to meet the challenge in Europe,” she added.


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