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US military’s iron dome could head to Ukraine

The suggestion to sell or send new air defense systems to Kiev would likely increase tensions with Moscow, which has been waging a proxy war in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and would view such a move near its border as a provocation. Russia has long complained about a US ballistic missile defense system in Romania, saying it could be used for offensive purposes, a charge the US and NATO have dismissed.

Since its deployment to Israel in 2011, the system, built by Israeli defense company Rafael in partnership with Raytheon, has proven to be one of the most effective short-range missile killers in the world. The IDF said Iron Dome shot down around 90 percent of missiles fired at Israel in recent years.

As it stands, the United States does not have many surplus air and missile defense batteries ready for transfer. But the military has been trying to figure out how to operate two Iron Dome systems it was ordered by Congress to purchase in 2019 as a stopgap for the service’s delayed efforts to bring its own new air and missile defense systems into service.

The service has purchased two batteries which are currently ready to be put into service next year. But the military struggled to integrate missile defense: Iron Dome was not designed to work in the army’s new command and control system, a problem that limits their usefulness if deployed at abroad.

Enter the House Armed Services Committee.

The HASC version of the 2022 Fiscal Defense Bill that was approved on September 2 by a margin of 57-2 does not specify any particular weapon system to be handed over to the Ukrainians. But a congressman said the language on the transfer of current systems is revealing and the military’s two Iron Dome batteries are prime candidates because there are few relevant systems the military has that could defeat the threat Ukraine faces from Russia.

The military has long taken the lead in land missile defense, but the past two decades of conflict with groups lacking sophisticated missile or drone capabilities has led to underinvestment in short-range air defense weapons. This has made the small number of Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries some of the most frequently deployed units by the military in recent years in the Middle East.

Yet the Kiev government has hinted in recent months that it is looking for more. Following the announcement in May that Ukraine would start increasing its annual defense budgets, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said he would like to spend some of it on new air defense systems, citing Iron Dome as a possibility.

These messages were heard in Washington and members of Congress took note of them.

“Given the desire and bipartisan recognition that more needs to be done on the integrated air defense front for the Ukrainians, and given some of the administration’s political decisions towards Ukraine recently, there is a desire to try and do more to help them than what the Biden team is doing, ”said the staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the bill is still pending in the House.

But there are questions about the effectiveness of a limited iron dome system in Ukraine.

“Tactically, it would not be effective at close range, or on the contact line, as this system would be brought down very quickly by Russian multiple-launch rocket systems,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russian studies program. Russia at the CNA. Tank. “But it might be able to intercept rockets at longer range, which could allow the battery to defend a critical site or command center” in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukraine air defense amendment was introduced by Representative Scott Franklin (R-Fla.) And adopted by a bipartite vote.

The House bill already provides for $ 275 million in military aid to Ukraine even before any further transfer of a missile defense system, but any transfer would not add significantly to the total as Iron Dome has already been paid.

Several Ukrainian and Israeli press reports this spring have suggested that Kiev is looking to buy the Iron Dome from Israel, but such a purchase could be complicated. The Israeli government would need Washington’s approval to sell it to a third country given the co-development agreement with US-based Raytheon, and there are sensitivities in Tel Aviv about their relations with Moscow. The two countries have agreed not to sell arms to third parties such as Ukraine and Iran and have struck a tough deal on Syria in recent years.

Yet there are also downsides to the US military getting rid of the Iron Dome, even if the service is unable to integrate it into their command and control system.

After two decades of coping with few sophisticated missile threats from insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military “faces significant shortages of anti-rocket artillery, mortars, and counter-defense capabilities. cruise missiles, ”said Tom Karako, director of the Center for Strategic and International Security’s Missile. Defense Project. “And the reason they adopted Iron Dome – with the encouragement of Congress – was really a reflection of that capability gap. “

An Army official who spoke in the background to discuss the sensitive issue said that while Iron Dome cannot work with other systems the service deploys, many other current weapons and sensors cannot no longer “talk” among themselves. But it’s a problem the military didn’t want to make worse by purchasing more equipment that would only make the problem worse.

The amendment that introduces Ukrainian missile defense language is tucked into the $ 24 billion increase in funding from HASC rank member Mike Rogers for the Biden Defense Policy Bill. The package also includes a $ 25 million increase in Ukraine’s Security Assistance Initiative of $ 250 million, bringing it down to the 2021 level of $ 275 million.

In June, POLITICO reported that the Biden administration had put in place a new $ 100 million military aid program to Ukraine, only to then put the plan on hold after Russian troops moved away from the Ukrainian border this spring after a series of exercises. The package included short-range air defense systems, small arms and anti-tank weapons, marking a departure from the non-lethal weapons the Biden administration has provided this year as two separate packages, one announced. in March and the other in June.

It is unclear what the eventual fate of Ukraine’s funding increases will be once the bill is introduced in the House of Commons and then considered by the House and Senate conference committees later this year for develop a final bill.

In July, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a $ 25 billion defense budget increase by a 25-to-1 margin, suggesting that both houses of Congress broadly agree that the President of the Pentagon’s spending plan of $ 715 billion fell short.



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