The US is sending Ukraine its Avenger air defence systems, which could prove a vital lifeline in pushing back Russian missile strikes. The Pentagon has confirmed that four air defence systems are on their way to Ukraine, which could prove to be a crucial line of defence against Iranian-made suicide drones and other weaponry crippling the nation’s energy network.
This could also signal another major blow for Vladimir Putin, whose troops withdrew from Kherson this week, the only city Russia managed to capture since it first invaded Ukraine in mid-February.
The systems are mounted on a Humvee vehicle, which means they have good off-road mobility. They are also armed with Stinger surface-to-air missiles and a .50 calibre machine gun.
The weapons also have a sighting system, including an infrared camera, optical sight, and laser range finder which can gun down targets that are up to five miles away.
These formed part of a $400million (£338million) military aid package announced on Thursday, which also includes the Stinger missiles the defence systems fire, as well as ammunition for Hawk medium-range technology.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Twitter: “Together we’re building an air shield to protect Ukrainian civilians. We’re bringing victory over the aggressor closer.”
It comes after Mr Zelensky made an urgent appeal to the West following Russia’s first big barrage of strikes in recent months, which Russian President Vladimr Putin said were launched in response to the explosion on the bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. Putin blamed this on Ukraine without any evidence.
He said: “We must do everything to make it impossible for Russia to destroy our energy system with missiles and drones.”
The US granted Mr Zelensky’s wish, with the highly capable air defence systems it has just shipped similar to ones used to protect the White House in Washington DC.
READ MORE: Defence system could ‘change Ukraine war’ and devastate Russia
Western air defence systems have already proved effective on the battlefield. The advanced iris-t system from Germany, which arrived in October, is already batting away incoming Russian missiles.
According to Ukrainians, one deployed has shot down every projectile in its path.
While it is recognisd that air defence systems are needed to stave off Russia’s brutal onslaughts, Mr Zekensky’s former energy adviser Pavlo Kukhta told Express.co.uk he doubts Russia will be able to cause much more damage.
He said: “The major target is electricity and will remain electricity. But as long as the material keeps coming, I doubt the Russians can intensify their strikes by an order of magnitude. Their major volleys are debilitating and take down parts of the network using dozens of missiles and drones, up to 100 maybe. That is a lot.
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“They have several thousand maybe overall, which is a lot. They are expending a large percentage of all their ammunition of that kind in one volley in one day. That takes down the grid for several hours, maybe in some places for a day or two, but not more as it gets repaired quickly.
“I doubt they (the Russians) can make the order of magnitude larger and fire 1,000 missiles in a single day.”
Mark Savchuk, a Kyiv local and expert in the energy sector with a postgraduate degree from the London School of Business and Finance, also doubts Russia will able to cause much more damage.
He told Express.co.uk: “Firing those missiles requires an insane amount of coordination. They have to send out airplanes, completely resupply and restock submarines and ships that fire calibre missiles. They have to get the surface launch platforms of their rockets as close to the border as possible and launch everything at the same time. It is incredibly difficult and astronomically expensive.”
But he warned that Moscow will return to the drawing board and try its luck again, despite the introduction of more air defence missiles to Ukraine.
He said: “Right now, they will come back to their supplies and stocks, and basically resupply all their launching platforms, but it takes a huge amount of time because all these rockets have to be tested, lots of them fail. Actually several of the rockets simply landed in fields simply because their navigation system was f****d.”
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday: “In their sick imagination, Ukrainians sitting for several hours without electricity is a victory. They think that this way they will force us to surrender. This will not happen.”