The US Defense Department is trying to speed up the delivery of two advanced surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine, as Russia has increasingly used Iranian-supplied drones to strike Ukrainian cities and infrastructure that explode on impact.
The Pentagon’s effort to help Ukraine build a comprehensive air and missile defense system to protect against these drones is just the latest evidence of Monday’s attack in Kiev that killed four.
Drones have become an increasingly pressing issue for Ukraine, drawing condemnation from the US. The State Department said on Monday that the drones are a violation of a UN Security Council resolution that restricts the transfer of certain weapons to or from Iran.
With stocks of precision-guided munitions believed to be dwindling, Moscow has turned to these mobile drones to maintain its ability to strike high-value targets — and to terrorize Ukrainian cities — from afar, Western analysts say. In recent days they have used energy to strike infrastructure.
Unlike traditional, larger and faster military drones that return to base after launching missiles, Iran-supplied drones are designed to crash into a target and explode, blowing themselves up and destroying the drone in the process. They are smaller and easier to control than cruise missiles.
The US does not know exactly how many drones Iran has given to Russia, but military analysts say the number is significant. Russia fired 43 missiles on Monday alone, 37 of which were shot down by air defense systems, according to the Ukrainian Air Force. A US defense official estimated the total to be in the hundreds.
“The big effect is certainly the economic strain, attacking Ukraine’s electricity availability in the winter and keeping the war going nationwide,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russian Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Essentially, these drones are being used as a poor man’s precision-guided weapon against Ukrainian infrastructure.”
A US defense official told CNN on Monday that the Pentagon is trying to speed up the two national Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS, which are owned by 12 nations and are already used to protect Washington, DC.
The US has already committed eight NASAMS to Ukraine, including two that were being accelerated, according to Pentagon officials.
The US announced on 1 July that it would send two NASAMs to Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative military assistance package and announced that it would send six more on 24 August.
According to the Pentagon, Raytheon manufactures the systems in partnership with Norway’s Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace. The U.S. now expects to finish manufacturing both systems in late October or early November, perhaps a full month earlier than originally planned.
Once the systems are finished, they still need to be transported to Ukraine. NASAMS will be flown to a nearby country and then sent overland to Ukraine.
Although Russia’s success with Iranian drones remains deeply concerned, sources familiar with intelligence and Western military analysts say their heavy use reflects the weakness of Russia’s arsenal.
Western officials believe Russia is running low on precision-guided munitions, and, according to a source familiar with Western intelligence, is likely on the verge of dipping into its strategic reserves to continue the war.
Russia still has older, less accurate Soviet weapons, the source said, although it’s unclear how much Moscow has managed to bring back from old Soviet stockpiles for combat because the West doesn’t know how many were sold or scrapped for parts. After the Cold War
However, Ukraine remains highly vulnerable to attack from the air.
Last week at a meeting of allied defense chiefs on aid to Ukraine, Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US and its allies should contribute existing air defense systems and then help Ukraine put the systems back together. to create a comprehensive defense.
“Many countries have other systems, the Israeli system is quite capable. The Germans have systems as we mentioned, so many of the countries that were here today have multiple systems,” Milley said.
Milley suggested that if several countries deploy air defense systems, the Ukrainians could “tie them up” with a “command and control and communications system.”