On September 15, the American and Ukrainian media reported on the possible delivery to Ukraine of a battery of the Iron Dome anti-missile systems, which were purchased from Israel in 2019 for the needs of the US Armed Forces. Rep. Scott Franklin, the Republican member of the United States House of Representatives, has amended the Defense Budget Bill for 2022, which creates legal grounds for the Joe Biden administration to sell or provide such weapons systems to Ukraine, in addition to the already agreed allocation of military assistance in the amount of $ 275 million.
The amendment was supported by representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties. The text of the bill does not specify that Ukraine will receive the Iron Dome. Conversations on the sidelines of Congress served as the basis for such assumptions. Whether the resolution of this issue will move further than talk will depend on the circumstances and the degree of confrontation between the leading political forces in the United States during the preparation for the midterm elections to the US Congress in November 2022. It is possible that the information being circulated is yet another political farce.
Why does Ukraine need the Iron Dome?
The missile and air defense system of Ukraine requires modernization. Mikhail Samus, deputy director of the Kyiv Center for Army Research, Conversion and Disarmament, and the head of the Ukrainian Military Center, Taras Chmut, agree that the Soviet S-300 and Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems, Su-27 and MiG-29s are not enough to counter missile attacks and they will finally exhaust their resource by 2030. According to Samus, the Ukrainian military is unlikely to be able to repel a simultaneous salvo from the Iskander operational-tactical complexes or the launch of 300 Caliber sea-based missiles. The plans of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are to acquire up to 40 new complexes to repel enemy missiles. Defense Minister Andriy Taran considered the Iron Dome complexes as an option for the acquisition.
The Iron Dome tactical missile defense system was developed by the Israeli company Rafael in conjunction with the American company Raytheon to protect Israeli cities from shelling by short-range ballistic missiles, unguided rockets, and 155-mm artillery shells within a radius of up to 70 km. Equipping with Tamir missiles makes it possible to use the complex to destroy drones. Since it has been in service with the Israel Defense Forces since 2011, the Iron Dome has proven effective and has hit up to 90% of targets.
In the future, other countries began to show interest in these complexes. In 2019, a contract was signed for the supply of two batteries of the Iron Dome complexes to the United States. The retired American general Henry Obering believes that with the purchase of the Iron Domes, the Pentagon hoped to patch a hole in the US missile defense system. According to the former military, the use of the Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile system during the war in Iraq made it possible to conclude that the Iron Dome is better suited for destroying missiles in a small radius that the existing systems cannot cover.
However, the Americans did not succeed in putting the Iron Domes on alert, since technical difficulties arose: the complexes were not compatible with the new army's command and control system. To operate the Iron Dome, special radars are needed, the acquisition of which will require additional costs. As a result, the Israeli complexes remained in warehouses, while the Americans are developing their counterparts. So that the good does not disappear, the idea of including the "Iron Domes" in the military aid package for Ukraine came up among the congressmen.
Moreover, there is an informational ground for this in Ukraine. In June 2021, the mayor of front-line Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko, proposed the idea of installing "Iron Domes" to guard the local international airport 5 km from the city, which was closed in June 2014 due to the armed conflict in Donbas. The mayor offered to service the complexes at the expense of American military aid. Approximately one shot from the Iron Dome costs over $ 50,000.
An ambiguous option
However, there is no consensus on the advisability of providing Ukraine with foreign anti-missile systems. Jan Brzezinski, an expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, believes that it makes sense for the United States to help Ukraine improve its air and missile defense system in the event of missile attacks on important infrastructure and command posts. Brzezinsky offered to supply American Patriot anti-missile systems to Ukraine.
Military analyst Joseph Trevithick believes that if the United States supplies anti-missile systems to Ukraine, this will serve as an impetus for military-technical cooperation between the countries. In his opinion, in return, Ukraine can share Soviet weapons systems with the United States, which will help the Americans better study the modern weapons of Russia and China developed on their basis. For example, in September 2018, the United States received from Ukraine an upgraded Soviet 36D6-M1 radar used to track flying objects at low altitude.
Another question is to what extent the Iron Dome complexes are adequate to the current needs of the Ukrainian army. Michael Kofman, director of the Russian research program at the CNA analytical center, believes that Israeli anti-missile systems will not be effective if placed on the line of contact and they can be destroyed during massive shelling from multiple launch rocket systems. According to Kofman, the Iron Dome is more suitable for guarding command centers or secret objects in the rear. Reflecting artillery shells using these anti-missile systems is much more difficult. Basically, the Ukrainian military suffers losses from shelling, mortar attacks, and small arms, but there is no obvious threat of rocket attacks, as in Israel.
Strongly opposed to the provision of any American weapons to Ukraine, senior researcher at the Research Institute for War and Peace at Columbia University Rajan Menon and vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, a naval officer in reserve, William Ruger. Experts are sure that Ukraine is of less interest to the United States than to Russia, and the Americans are not obliged to guarantee its safety and get involved in a hybrid war with their opponent. They doubt that providing weapons to Ukraine will discourage Russia from aggressive actions.
The probable reason why the United States can refrain from providing Ukraine with such complex and expensive equipment is that we have experience in exchanging military technologies with China. On the basis of the unfinished Soviet aircraft-carrying cruiser bought in Ukraine, the Chinese created their first aircraft carrier, and on the basis of a prototype of a military aircraft - a carrier-based fighter. Under pressure from the United States, the sale of the Motor Sich aircraft engine plant to a Chinese company fell through. Biden knows firsthand about the corruption and greed of Ukrainian officials and therefore will behave cautiously in relations with Bankova. When he served as vice president of President Barack Obama's team, he often visited Kyiv.
The factor of Russia
The United States and Israel may refrain from supplying the Iron Dome to Ukraine, so as not to aggravate relations with Russia once again. In the Russian media, talks about possible deliveries of anti-missile systems from the United States are widely covered. In any case, Moscow reacted with hostility to the deployment of the American missile defense system Aegis and THAAD in Romania and Patriot anti-missile systems in Poland. Confrontation with Russia is not included in the plans of the Biden administration, which has intensified its dialogue with Moscow and is interested in achieving neutrality from it in the global US-China confrontation.
Congressional views on the Ukrainian issue rarely coincide with sentiments in the White House. There has been bipartisan support in the Senate and House of Representatives since 2014 to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend and repel Russian aggression. However, the Biden administration and the Kremlin are currently negotiating nuclear arms reductions. The supply of anti-missile systems to Ukraine could disrupt the cold peace of Moscow and Washington.
It is not profitable to spoil relations with Russia for the Naftali Bennett government in Israel since in fact, Russian troops in Syria do not prevent Israeli pilots from inflicting airstrikes on warehouses and convoys with weapons for the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah, on the positions of the Iranian military. The Israelis have a higher priority to produce the Iron Dome to increase their own defense capabilities than to fulfill export orders. In addition, Israel will not be able to sell the Iron Dome to Ukraine, since this requires the consent of the American side that participated in the development of the complex. These are the treaty obligations between Washington and Jerusalem.
US deliveries of the Iron Dome complexes for the Ukrainian army are possible if Biden's reputation depends on it. Recently, GOP senators have disagreed with his foreign policy, and in protest refuse to participate in the voting process for the appointment of individual officials.
In particular, Senator Ted Cruz refuses to vote until the White House reconsiders its decision on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and imposes sanctions against Nord Stream AG and its management. The Russian gas pipeline is currently undergoing certification in Germany. The project is not beneficial for Ukraine, which will lose the ability to earn substantial sums on the transit of Russian natural gas to Europe. Senator Josh Hawley is blocking the appointment of officials to the State Department and the Pentagon in protest against the not entirely successful organization of the evacuation of the American military from Afghanistan, during which there were no deaths, and is demanding the resignation of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the president's national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Biden has earned the image of a loser president, an indecisive and inconsistent leader who betrays the interests of his American partners. Ukraine and Afghanistan are proof of this. This is under pressure from the Republicans, who, apparently, have already begun to prepare for the midterm elections to the US Congress. Biden's ratings sagged after the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan.
Therefore, the transfer to Ukraine, as it turned out, of the Iron Dome complexes unnecessary to the United States can be considered as compensation for the launch of Nord Stream 2. Thus, Biden will prove to his opponents that their criticism is unfounded. At least, the former US President Donald Trump, thanks to the supply of American Javelin anti-tank systems to Ukraine, managed to deliver a convincing blow to the criticism of the Democrats, who considered him an agent of Russian influence. Political farce and nothing more.