Patriot is Ukraine’s pragmatic approach amid SAMP/T difficulties

Ukraine is committed to acquiring more air and missile defense systems to bolster its defenses. Previously, the administration indicated a desire for anywhere between 7 and 25 additional Patriot systems. Presently, they’re in talks for the acquisition of two Patriots and one SAMP/T, as pointed out by Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. 

Italy is considering donating a SAMP/T SAM system to Ukraine
Pkote credit: Twitter

The reason for aiming at a lower number of Patriot systems is quite logical because there are only about 30 Patriot batteries stationed in Europe under NATO’s wing. The goal to procure either 83% or 23% of these systems seems far-fetched. However, securing two more Patriots, possibly assembled from different parts from various sources, seems more attainable, especially under the current restrictions the US has placed on aid to Ukraine. 

Interestingly, the focus has begun to shift towards acquiring SAMP/T air defense systems. Given that only one system of this kind has been delivered so far by France and Italy, this negotiation becomes all the more significant.

Misunderstanding: Ukraine expects, but France will not send SAMP/T
Photo credit: Gagadget

The difficult negotiations

Continuing discussions on the SAMP/T system that began in October 2022, Ukraine finally received the complex in the summer of 2023. This transition is considered significant, given the quantity of the hardware involved. 

According to the data from 2021, France boasts ten SAMP/T systems, or fire units, divided equally among five squadrons. Each French configuration includes six launchers, each possessing eight missiles, teamed with a radar, a command post, and additional support vehicles. On the other hand, Italy hosts six SAMP/T fire units, divided into individual batteries. The Italian systems have a smaller component configuration – with just four launchers each. 

Downing a Su-34 is easy, Patriot's struggle is against the Su-35
Photo by Anthony Sweeney

In summary, following the transfer, a total of 15 SAMP/T systems are now in operation. This equates to 6% of all available air defense systems. In comparison, the transfer of two out of 30 Patriot Units also represents 6% of the available units in Europe. It’s important to note that the SAMP/T system from Eurosam was designed as an alternative to the Patriot system but never gained equal popularity. The only foreign client of SAMP/T outside Europe is Singapore, which signed a contract in 2013 and achieved combat readiness as recently as December 2023.

An Italian-French solution

The SAMP/T, or Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain, is an air defense system developed by Eurosam, a consortium of MBDA France, MBDA Italy, and Thales. It is designed to counter a variety of threats, including tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones, and manned aircraft. 

Turkey might get SAMP/T against supersonic AShM cruise missiles
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The system’s dimensions are substantial, with the launcher vehicle measuring approximately 10 meters in length, 3 meters in width, and 3.3 meters in height. The radar vehicle is slightly larger, with a length of 10.9 meters, a width of 3 meters, and a height of 4.2 meters. 

The SAMP/T system is characterized by its high mobility, quick reaction time, and 360-degree coverage. It utilizes the ARABEL multi-function radar, which can track up to 100 targets simultaneously. The system also includes a command and control vehicle that manages target engagement. A typical SAMP/T battery includes a command and control vehicle, a radar vehicle, and up to six launcher vehicles. Each launcher vehicle carries eight missiles, enabling a single battery to engage multiple targets simultaneously.

600 kilometers and Aster missile

The operational range of the SAMP/T system is significant. It can engage targets up to 600 kilometers away and at altitudes of up to 110,000 feet. This impressive range is due to the use of the Aster 30 missile, a two-stage projectile with a high-explosive warhead. 

The SAMP/T platform employs two types of missiles: the Aster 15 and Aster 30. The Aster 15 is designed for short to medium-range engagements, while the Aster 30 is proposed for longer-range engagements. Both missiles utilize active radar homing for guidance, and they’re capable of intercepting targets flying at supersonic speeds.

What more can the Patriots do?

One of the main advantages of the Patriot system is its proven combat record. The Patriot has been employed in several conflicts, including the Gulf War and the Iraq War, manifesting its reliability and effectiveness in real-world scenarios. The Patriot system also provides a greater degree of flexibility. It is capable of intercepting a broad range of targets, including aircraft, drones, and ballistic and cruise missiles. This multi-target ability makes it a highly versatile defense tool. On the contrary, the SAMP/T system is primarily designed to counter aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles, thereby offering less flexibility. 

Another plus point of the Patriot system is its integration with other defense mechanisms. The Patriot system can be harmonized with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] system and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system to form a multi-layered defense that can counteract threats at different stages and altitudes. While the SAMP/T system can be integrated with other NATO systems, it doesn’t offer the same extensive level of layered defense. 

Finally, the Patriot system has a superior range and higher altitude capability than the SAMP/T. The Patriot PAC-3 missile can intercept targets at a distance of up to 160 kilometers and an altitude of up to 24 kilometers. In contrast, the SAMP/T has a range of only 120 kilometers and an altitude of 20 kilometers. This gives the Patriot system a more expansive defensive coverage.

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