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Pentagon: Ukraine to get advanced air defense systems early next month

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the imminent delivery of two anti-aircraft batteries but quashed hopes on longer-range missiles Kyiv says it needs

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the Pentagon on Thursday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday that Ukraine is expected to receive advanced U.S. air defense systems “early next month,” meeting one of Kyiv’s key demands for military assistance as Russia continues to pummel city centers, energy hubs and other civilian targets with a barrage of missiles and drones.

The Pentagon has previously indicated that it is in the process of procuring two powerful midrange surface-to-air missile systems known as NASAMS that would be delivered to Ukraine within weeks. Austin’s statement Thursday is the first time a senior U.S. official has put a hard date on exactly when Kyiv can expect to receive them.

“Right now what [Ukrainians] need more than anything else … is air defense capability,” Austin said, noting that “we have been pressing hard to get them a NASAMS capability, and we expect that early next month we’ll be able to get them the capability.”

The two systems alone will not be sufficient to provide Ukraine with enough cover to defend against a Russian assault that is increasingly targeting civilian population centers and the infrastructure that supports them — a strategy with potentially devastating consequences as the fight drags into winter.

Winter nears in Ukraine — and a battle of stamina awaits

The United States has plans to send six additional NASAMS air defenses to Ukraine, but those still need to be contracted and built and are probably years away from delivery. It is still unclear whether the Pentagon and its NATO counterparts plan to expedite other air defense systems to Ukraine in the meantime, or on what timeline those might arrive.

Meanwhile, Austin shot down speculation that Ukraine might be receiving similar reinforcements when it comes to their advanced offensive capabilities, quashing the idea that the United States would send Kyiv precision long-range missiles anytime soon.

Ukrainian leaders have insisted that they need the U.S.-produced ATACMS — which can fire missiles up to 190 miles — to strike targets in Crimea, in particular sites that the Russians have been using to launch Iranian-produced drones. But U.S. leaders have resisted meeting that demand, citing concerns that the Ukrainian military might use the capability to launch strikes on Russian territory, despite repeated pledges from officials in Kyiv that they would not do so.

“The Ukrainians can service just about every target they want to service using the GMLRs they have been employing,” Austin said, referring to a missile system that can reach targets about 45 miles away. “They have what they need to be successful; they are putting it to good use. We’re going to continue to do those things that are working for the Ukrainians on the battlefield.”

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