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Downing of Russian missiles shows ‘profound effect’ of Ukrainians training on US systems: General

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LANPAC 2023 — Ukraine’s destruction Tuesday of six of Russia’s vaunted Kinzhal missiles is most impressive not for the proof that the American-made Patriot anti-missile system’s technology works, but for the fact that US-trained Ukrainian troops brought down the missiles, the head of US Army Pacific told reporters here.

“We have advanced that [Patriot] capability in ways that are profound,” Gen. Charles Flynn told Breaking Defense when asked about the shootdowns. “And so, that system, which was provided to the Ukrainian forces, and then a group of Ukrainian soldiers were trained on that system. I guess I take the question in a bit of a different way and say I think about the value of training forces that never previously had a capability like that and then we provide that capability to them. And they’re able to conduct an intercept in that way. To me that’s that’s the bigger issue.”

Flynn said the training of the Ukrainian troops on Patriots “has a profound effect on the applications of those weapons systems and, maybe more importantly, how you defend and what you’re defending.”

Flynn, who trains and equips all Army forces across the vast Indo-Pacific theater, often points to the importance of America’s allies and partners in the region and cites them as America’s “asymmetric advantage” in the regional competition against China. He’s clearly making the wider point that the US could similarly train troops in this region to provide greater protection against weapons such as China’s DF-21 and DF-26 missiles.

China claimed recently to have involved its Rocket Force in month-long exercises by the Shandong carrier group near Guam, the South China Morning Post reported. The newspaper quoted analysts saying this indicated China was demonstrating it could target Guam, site of important US military bases.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin had claimed the Kinzhal was the world’s most advanced hypersonic missile and would be virtually untouchable.

But Ukrainian officials said Tuesday they intercepted all six Kinzhals fired by the Russians, while the Russian Defense Ministry said that “a high-precision strike by the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in the city of Kyiv hit a US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missile system.” (CNN reported today the damage to the Patriot system was “minimal” and that the system is still operational. On Wednesday the White House said it could not confirm reports about the damage.)

Jack Watling, an expert from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) here at the tenth LANPAC conference, noted that the Patriot has been “upgraded persistently since it was first introduced, and it’s had a lot of practice against Houthi ballistic missiles in the last few years,” referring to the Yemeni militant group.

Watling also said that the Kinzhal doesn’t qualify as an advanced hypersonic weapon, so that while the Russian missile is extremely fast and gives Ukrainian defenders “little time within which to respond,” they behave in ways the Patriot and its operators are familiar with.

The Kinzhal “certainly has a very different trajectory to a normal ballistic missile, and therefore it’s a challenge,” Watling told Breaking Defense after appearing on a panel about Ukraine war lessons learned. “So training providers of Ukrainians to operate that system proficiently was critical. Having said that, Ukrainian air defenders are pretty experienced people. They have operated in a high threat environment for quite a long time.”

Ukraine has one American-donated Patriot system and one given by Germany and the Netherlands.

 

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