US Patriot missiles have arrived in Ukraine Wednesday, part of the $325 million tranche of artillery, anti-armor weapons, and other military aid for the embattled country as it gears up for a spring offensive against Russian troops.

As the United States’ 36th security package for Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022, this brings more than $35.4 billion in US military aid to the Kyiv government on its completion.

Today, our beautiful Ukrainian sky becomes more secure because Patriot air defense systems have arrived in Ukraine.Our air defenders have mastered them as fast as they could.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Rezninov tweeted yesterday, showing his appreciation to the US government, extending his “thank yous” to Defense Minister Lloyd Austin and “the American people.”

A US missile, fired from a Patriot, is on its way to knock down an incoming threat. Screenshot from YouTube and CNN

The Defense Minister added, “And our partners have kept their word. This is the result of hard work led by our President, Zelensky. Thank you to my colleagues and the American, German, and Dutch people. We will win together.”

 “Patriots for patriots,” Reznikov tweeted, sharing a photo of the list of munitions, artillery, and military aid that will continue to pour in from the US.

In situations like this, I am reminded of FDR’s (Franklin D. Roosevelt) words:

“We must be the great arsenal of democracy.”

That was 80 years ago, and it is still the case today. Ukraine adheres to the principle that democracy should defend itself.

US and Western Allies Continue To Help Ukraine

The US Patriot missiles are the latest contribution from Western allies to Ukraine,  which can target aircraft, cruise missiles, and shorter-range ballistic missiles. These missiles are a significant addition to Ukraine’s defense system, which has lacked firepower since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In October 2022, the US agreed to send the surface-to-air systems in response to the increasing violence in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine had been requesting this type of support for years, which shows that the US is finally taking a more proactive approach to Russia-Ukraine conflicts.

Apart from the US, other countries have also provided munitions to Ukraine. Canada, for instance, has provided training and non-lethal equipment, such as helmets and ballistic vests, to Ukrainian soldiers. The UK has also committed to sending $420 million of training and equipment to Ukraine over three years. Germany has provided five Leopard 2 tanks, and Lithuania has donated weapons and ammunition, including anti-tank weapons.

The contribution of tanks by Western countries is another significant development in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, being a critical component of modern warfare and can provide substantial firepower to an army. Apart from Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks, Turkey has provided M60T tanks, and Poland has donated the PT-91.

These tanks and the US Patriot missiles provide Ukraine with more tools to deter Russian aggression and defend its territory.

What are Patriot Missiles?

The Patriot is a mobile surface-to-air and antiballistic missile system capable of intercepting incoming missiles before reaching their targets. Patriot batteries are also capable of shooting down aircraft. Each system can hold four missile interceptors and is mounted on trucks that can be moved at will. They are regarded as a security blanket in military circles, shielding a population, troops, or even buildings from incoming fire.

Over the last 30 years, the US military has used Patriot batteries in various conflicts. In January, US troops at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates fired Patriot interceptor missiles at missiles aimed at the base, according to US Central Command.

Why did Ukraine ask for them?

Kyiv hopes to use its security blanket to deflect incoming missiles. Since Russian President Vladimir V. Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February, Moscow has launched a barrage of missiles and airstrikes against both civilian and military targets in Ukraine. However, Moscow has been relentless in December 2022,  following a humiliating withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson — the southern city that Russian President Vladimir Putin had only a month before claimed as part of his country’s territory.

Russia has pounded Ukrainian power plants, heating systems, and other energy infrastructure, leaving millions of people without electricity or heat in the dead of winter. Russian drone strikes on Odesa’s southern Ukrainian port city knocked out power to more than 1.5 million people.

Beyond the practical, Kyiv sees symbolic benefits in the Patriot system: proof that the US, rather than tiring of its support for Ukraine, is stepping up efforts to assist it in resisting the Russian onslaught. In a New York Times report,  Patriot batteries can fire defenses up to 600 miles away. While far from perfect, they can track and shoot down long-range ballistic missiles and aircraft from hundreds of miles away.

These also have powerful radar systems — better than comparable air defense systems — that help Patriots distinguish between friend and foe.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a newly manufactured single Patriot battery costs more than $1 billion, with $400 million for the system and $690 million for the missiles in a battery.

Patriot missiles have many detractors, including a website headline claiming “Patriot Missiles Are Made in America and Fail Everywhere,” which U.S. military officials dismissed as an exaggeration.

While some military officials claimed that the system intercepted all but two Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War, the Pentagon later had to revise that to a 50% shoot-down rate, as The New York Times reported.

Today, the efficacy rate is thought to be higher, but precise figures are difficult to come by. Military experts say it’s critical to understand how and when to use one.