Ukraine wants to produce the US interceptor used in downing Su-35

The American interceptor, which has proven successful in downing a Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter jet, has caught the attention of Ukraine. This noteworthy interceptor is part of the American-manufactured Patriot anti-aircraft system. 

Ukraine fired 6% of PAC-3 annual production of in 120 seconds
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

In a conversation on April 23, Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, revealed that Kyiv is currently consulting with Washington regarding a possible collaboration on the production of Patriot air defense systems. The goal is to equip Ukraine with a robust defense against Russian warfare. 

Given the increasing Russian attacks on population centers and energy infrastructure, Ukraine is grappling with a severe shortfall of air defense systems. American Patriot systems are renowned for their prowess in intercepting Russian ballistic and cruise missiles. 

THAAD successfully fired Patriot's PAC-3 MSE missile using AN/TPY-2
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for at least 25 Patriot systems to effectively repel Russian strikes. Echoing his sentiments, Foreign Minister N. Kuleba has identified the immediate provision of 7 systems to safeguard Ukraine’s largest cities as a top-priority task.

The Patriot – a main topic, but not only

The proposed collaboration between the United States and Ukraine on the production of the “Patriot” was a significant point of discussion during Zelensky’s recently concluded tour to the US, stated Ambassador Markarova. “This not only advances global strategy and economic ties but also enhances Ukraine’s warfare capabilities by creating essential resources,” she explained. 

Ukraine wants to produce the US interceptor used in downing Su-35 - Patriot anti-aircraft system
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

It wasn’t just weaponry insights that were shared between Ukrainian and US business delegates; they also discussed potential cooperation in industrial production. Markarova emphasized the urgency of self-production of essential items, whether they’re singular components or entire products. 

Ukraine already has existing defense production alliances with several countries, including the US. In December 2023, a formal affirmation of the intention for joint armament production was inked between Kyiv and Washington. This collaboration is expected to stimulate the establishment of production infrastructures within Ukraine, catering specifically to the military’s requirement for ammunition and air defenses.

Patriot vs Su-35

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

According to Ukraine’s claims, the US-supplied Patriot air defense system has successfully intercepted Russian aircraft, marking a significant achievement against the Su-35 model. In an incident worth noting, on 3rd April 2022, Ukrainian forces managed to down a Russian Su-35S. The pilot managed to eject safely but was captured and confirmed that his aircraft was shot down near Izyum while engaging with Ukrainian air defenses. 

Fast forward to 19th July 2022, the Ukrainian Air Force command reported they had intercepted a Su-35 near Kakhovka. However, at that time, photographic evidence was not available. It was not until early February 2023 that this was confirmed when images of the crashed aircraft indicated it was indeed a Su-35S. Further successful interceptions occurred in May 2023, when a Ukrainian MIM-104 Patriot missile downed a Su-35 fighter over the Bryansk region, not once, but twice, on the 14th and 22nd, respectively. 

In a remarkable display of defensive prowess, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine announced in February 2024 that it had successfully intercepted two Su-35s, describing it as their “pride and joy, marking the most substantial Russian jet interceptions since October 2022.” In that same month, they claimed a record haul of ten Su-34s and one A-50 interception.

Iran expects delivery of the first Su-35 batch sometime next week
Photo credit: Dzen

Is it possible?

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, we’ve seen many metaphorical ‘red lines’ established by world leaders. What’s even more intriguing? The ease with which these ‘red lines’ are crossed, underscores their diminishing impact and respect.  

There are numerous instances, such as the breach of the Minsk agreement, employed as a diversion against Russia while Ukraine continues to enhance its arms capabilities. This reality was endorsed by the former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Likewise, the deployment of tanks and F-16 fighters represented other ‘red lines’. We’ve also seen the positioning of foreign troops and forces as a ‘red line’ that’s once again likely to be breached. The shifting political landscape can make outsourced production in Ukraine foreseeable since politicians’ opinions are always subject to change. 

Neutral country buys dozens of agile 'hit-to-kill' US interceptors
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

But one has to ponder, is it really worth the risks? According to analysts, Washington will have to carefully consider the implications, not necessarily due to the potential violation of a ‘red line’ established by the Kremlin, but rather due to the risk posed to substantial investments. Rheinmetall has agreed to construct ammunition production units in Ukraine. However, these potential assets, along with the potential Patriot interceptors, remain highly exposed to potential Russian missile attacks.

Patriot production outside the US

The United States is known for the production of the much-acclaimed Patriot interceptor missiles, but did you know that these missiles are also manufactured in other regions under license? Consider the Netherlands, for example. Here, Thales, a versatile European enterprise, fabricates these sophisticated missile systems. 

Polish SAM didn't catch a Russian Kh-type missile entering Poland - Patriot SAM
Photo credit: Janek Skarzynski/AFP

Similarly, Germany also contributes to the production of these missiles. MBDA, a prestigious conglomerate specializing in missile systems, takes on this responsibility. It’s a shining example of the expansive partnership between the U.S. and its NATO allies. 

Moving further south, we find Greece dipping its toes into Patriot interceptor missile production. Entrusted to Hellenic Defense Systems, a dominant player in the Greek defense industry, the process is in safe hands. 

Not to forget our friends in the East, Japan also participates in the manufacturing of these projectiles. This task falls to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a leading Japanese multinational, to uphold production within this bustling Asian powerhouse.

PAC-2 and PAC-3

The backbone of American air defense, the Patriot anti-aircraft system, deploys two main types of interceptors: the PAC-2 and the PAC-3. The Patriot Advanced Capability-2, or PAC-2, is the senior interceptor of the pair. It’s designed to explode near the incoming threat, using the blast-fragmentation warhead to obliterate the target. This makes it particularly powerful against aircraft and ballistic missiles. 

However, the PAC-2 isn’t as adept when faced with more nimble and compact targets such as tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. That’s where the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, steps up. The PAC-3 interceptor is leaner, swifter, and more agile than its older counterpart, the PAC-2. It operates on the principle of hit-to-kill technology, which means it directly crashes into the target to annihilate it, rather than using proximity detonation. It’s this feature that makes the PAC-3 more effective against agile and smaller threats. 

Patriot destroyed missile using target designation provided by F-35
Photo by US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart

In addition, the PAC-3 boasts an enhanced radar system and superior guidance technology, allowing it to track and target incoming threats with higher precision. Hence, it stands tall as a more evolved and versatile interceptor than the PAC-2.

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