A Pentagon official said Russia is trying to deplete Ukraine’s air defenses

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia’s increased missile strikes in Ukraine are partly aimed at depleting Kyiv’s supply of air defenses and ultimately achieving dominance in the country’s skies, a senior Pentagon official said on Saturday.

Russia has been hitting cities across Ukraine with missiles over the past week, in one of the heaviest waves of missile strikes since Moscow launched its invasion nearly nine months ago.

Ukraine says the strikes have crippled nearly half of Ukraine’s energy system, causing a potential humanitarian catastrophe as winter sets in.

Colin Kahl, a senior policy adviser at the Pentagon, warned that Moscow also hopes to exhaust Ukraine’s air defenses that have so far prevented the Russian military from controlling the skies over Ukraine.

“They’re really trying to exhaust and deplete the Ukrainian air defense systems,” Kahl told reporters during a trip to the Middle East.

“We know what the Russian theory of victory is, and we’re committed to making sure that doesn’t work by making sure the Ukrainians get what they need to keep their air defenses viable.”

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Western military experts widely expected that the Russian military would attempt to destroy Ukraine’s air force and air defenses immediately. This is a key element of modern military strategy, allowing better support for the advance of ground forces.

Instead, Ukrainian forces carrying surface-to-air missiles and other air defenses managed to threaten Russian planes and the skies over Ukraine remain contested to this day.

This early, decisive failure was a key component of Russia’s problems in Ukraine as it pressed on with its failed invasion, at an enormous cost in lives and military equipment.

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“I think the thing that has probably surprised the Russians the most is how resilient Ukraine’s air defenses have been since the beginning of this conflict,” Kahl said.

“It’s in large part because of the ingenuity and intelligence of the Ukrainians themselves in keeping their air defense systems viable. But also because the United States and other allies and partners have provided a tremendous amount of support,” he said.

Last week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin focused on air defense supplies to Ukraine in a virtual meeting hosted from the Pentagon. Ukraine’s allies were offering everything from legacy Soviet-era systems to more modern Western ones.

For the United States, this includes the newly introduced US NASAMS air defense systems that the Pentagon says has so far achieved a 100% success rate in Ukraine in intercepting Russian missiles.

“We’ve moved the Ukrainians toward standard NATO equipment across the board, but not least air defense systems like the NASAM,” said Kahl.

The United States has provided more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems along with anti-artillery and air-surveillance radars to Ukraine.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idris Ali) Editing by Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry

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