A House bill wants more money for Kyiv’s defense, and a missile-defense system might be in the mix.
By PAUL MCLEARY
Since taking office, the Biden administration has kept up Washington’s shipments of weapons and training to the Ukrainian military, including $275 million worth of equipment and support packages since March.
But some in Congress are looking to do more and have included an amendment attached to the 2022 defense bill that would pressure the Biden administration to sell or transfer new air and missile defense systems to Ukraine, including potentially sending an Iron Dome battery currently being operated by the U.S. Army.
Included in the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) version of the fiscal 2022 defense policy bill is an amendment requiring the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress outlining options for potentially selling or transferring “existing systems” to Ukraine that are likely not going to be deployed in the near-term.
The suggestion of selling or sending new air defense systems to Kyiv would likely increase tensions with Moscow, which has been fighting a proxy war in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and would regard such a transfer close to its border as a provocation. Russia has long complained about an American ballistic missile defense system in Romania, claiming it could be used for offensive purposes, an accusation the U.S. and NATO have dismissed.
Since being deployed in Israel in 2011, the system, built by the Israeli defense company Rafael in partnership with Raytheon, has proven itself one of the world’s most effective killers of short-range missiles. The Israeli military has said Iron Dome has knocked down about 90 percent of missiles fired into Israel over the past several years.
As it stands, the U.S. doesn’t have much in the way of excess air and missile defense batteries ready to be transferred. But the Army has been trying to figure out how to operate two Iron Dome systems Congress ordered it to purchase in 2019 as a stopgap for delayed efforts by the service to get its own new air and missile defense systems up and running.
The service purchased two batteries that are currently being readied to be put into operation next year. But the Army has struggled to integrate the missile defense: Iron Dome wasn’t designed to operate within the Army’s new command and control system, a problem that limits their usefulness if deployed overseas.
The HASC’s version of the fiscal 2022 defense bill that was approved on Sept. 2 by a 57-2 margin doesn’t specify any particular weapons system to hand over to the Ukrainians. But one congressional staffer said the language about transferring current systems is telling, and that the Army’s two Iron Dome batteries are prime candidates because there are few relevant systems the Army possesses that could defeat the threat Ukraine faces from Russia.
The Army has long taken the lead on land-based missile defense, but the past two decades of conflict with groups that lack sophisticated missile or drone capabilities led to some under-investment in short-range air defense weapons. That in turn has made the small number of Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries some of the Army’s most frequently deployed units in recent years in the Middle East.
Yet the government in Kyiv has suggested in recent months that they’re looking for more. Following the May announcement that Ukraine would begin increasing its annual defense budgets, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said he would like to spend some of it on new air defense systems, pointing to Iron Dome as a possibility.