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Why does the USA ask NATO partners to donate Patriot missile systems to Ukraine and not donate them itself?

The Pentagon says it will "rush" Patriot air defence missiles and artillery ammunition to Ukraine as part of its new military aid package. However Patriot systems for launching the missiles will not be sent, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said.link

Following his talks with Biden, the Romanian leader said he was open to supplying Ukraine with U.S.-made Patriot air-defense missiles. Germany and Spain have vowed to send additional Patriot systems to Ukraine. Other NATO nations -- including Romania, Greece, the Netherlands, and Sweden -- also have systems, and Kyiv has appealed for additional weapons to bolster its air defenses. "There has been a discussion about who can send Patriot systems to Ukraine," Iohannis told reporters. "President Biden mentioned it...in our meeting, and I said I was open to discussion.link

Romanian Defence Minister Angel Tîlvăr is sceptical about sending a Patriot missile system to Ukraine, claims Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu. Commenting on President Klaus Iohannis’ recent visit to the US, Ciolacu revealed that Tîlvăr has serious reservations about supplying Ukraine with a Patriot missile system.link

For a developing country, like Romania, relative to GDP, the cost of a Patriot missile system are very high.

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In the current package (May, 2024) there are missiles to resupply the existing Patriot batteries. But, as asked, no new standalone battery:

The Pentagon says it will "rush" Patriot air defence missiles and artillery ammunition to Ukraine as part of its new military aid package.

However Patriot systems for launching the missiles will not be sent, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

The US has donated at least one full Patriot battery in the past (I think Germany covered the other two). This is wiki's coverage of the 2023 deliveries:

One day later, the Biden administration announced it would be delivering another $1.85 billion in aid to Ukraine that would include a Patriot battery[131] During a meeting with Zelenskyy in front of the press at the White House on December 21, Biden confirmed that the United States would send a Patriot battery to Ukraine, noting that it would take "months" to train the "dozens" of soldiers needed to operate the system, probably in Germany


What is a Patriot battery anyway, as commented on?

A Patriot missile battery requires about 90 soldiers to operate.

six to eight launching station (trucks)

Patriot currently employs a single AN/MPQ-53, AN/MPQ-65, or AN/MPQ-65A radar set to detect and engage targets.

The AN/MSQ-4 Engagement Control Station (ECS), based on an M927 truck, is the only manned component of a Patriot battery. Patriot engagements are nearly autonomous, with only the final launch decision requiring human interaction.

The Patriot radar and ECS draw electrical power from a separate Electric Power Plant (EPP) vehicle

So, a bunch of very specialized trucks with very expensive electronics and logistical equipment.


And there aren't that many of them (the batteries are $1B each, missiles $4m-ish). To give a sense of scale, Germany had 11 of them.

So, during 2023, three Patriot batteries were delivered to Ukraine.

Zelensky says they need seven instead:

Zelenskyy said at least seven Patriot systems are needed to protect Ukrainian cities. “We urgently need Patriot systems and missiles for them,” Zelenskyy said. “This is what can and should save lives right now.”

At a Pentagon press conference following the meeting, Austin said the U.S. was working with allies to resource additional Patriot systems but did not commit to sending more U.S. versions. He said he has been speaking one-on-one with a number of his European counterparts in recent days to hash out this issue and others.

“It's not just Patriots that they need, they need other types of systems and interceptors as well,” Austin said. “I would caution us all in terms of making Patriot the silver bullet.”

Austin said he is asking allied nations to “accept a little bit more risk” as they consider what weapons to send to Ukraine. A number of nations have expressed some reluctance to send Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine because most don’t have very many and they belieive they need them for their own defense.

And as to why it might be dragging its feet:

Outside the US, only Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries appears to build Patriot missiles, under licence from various US companies. This has led to a demand on the US Army. Patriot batteries are the most deployed units in the US Army by early 2021. Some units have had a 6-month deployment extended up to 15 months.[5][179][180][181] The missile is currently being used in active service in Saudi Arabia.[182] In active use by the IDF in the "southern Negev desert".[183] The Patriot missile batteries are also seeing active service in Ukraine, where there are three batteries in service.[184] To refill US stockpiles, Japan has modified its export rules to allow export of missiles to the United States. Previously only specific components could be exported now entire missiles can be exported. They cannot be sent directly to Ukraine, however they can backfill US stockpiles.[180] Recent withdrawal of the missiles from the Middle East were done to help deal with a potential crisis in the Pacific.[181] Likewise Germany has withdrawn its three Patriot units from Poland.

Here's an example of when the US moved out some Patriots during a crisis in Saudi Arabia in Sept 2021 - they do seem stretched thin.

The United States has removed its most advanced missile defence system and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, even as the kingdom faced continued air attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

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  • Plus US has to cover dozens or even hundreds of sites in the middle East, while the Biden administration's half hearted attempts to de-escalate matters get humiliated daily by Netanyahu & co.
    – Pete W
    Commented May 15 at 1:56
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    Just for context, a 'Patriot battery' consists of launch vehicles, radar vehicles, a bunch of other support vehicles and the staff to operate all of this. Hence the high price per battery and the small absolute number of them.
    – quarague
    Commented May 15 at 5:58
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    @quarague So you're saying the issue is not "because 9-volts are hard to come by"? ;-) Jokes aside, the additional context you provided helps us understand the scale of hardware involved - nice comment!
    – Mentalist
    Commented May 15 at 7:28
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    This is extremely confusing. According to CFR, USA donated $107 billion in direct aid already from a $175 billion in total. That amount is enough to buy even 100 batteries, Also, a price of $1 Billion a battery looks extremely low when looking at total US military spendings, why isn't USA stockpiling some 10 or 20 batteries for situations when they might need them and goes out and ask poor countries to donate their own batteries instead? Or, instead of $107 billion, they could give $90 billion in direct aid and 17 Patriot system. This whole story starts to look like Mekita Rivas "logic".
    – Arwenz
    Commented May 15 at 18:45
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    @Arwenz Because money spent on one thing can't be spent on another and modern military equipment is extremely capital intensive to produce. The US has been spending the last 20 years on counter-insurgency, not preparing to face conventional enemies with fleets of of fighter jets and enormous supplies of cruise missiles. US admins have for years been commissioning studies that show weaknesses in the US military industries and for years they've been finding other things to spend their time and money on. Commented May 16 at 4:29

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