The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, claimed that Ukraine’s air defences cannot protect the entire territory from Russia’s indiscriminate strikes.

“Unfortunately, our state does not yet have enough high-quality air defence systems to protect our entire territory and shoot down all enemy targets,” Zelenskyy stated in an address to the nation on 3 July.

“[Russia] is taking advantage of this, as it did today, when it launched another terrorist attack on the city of Sumy with an Iranian drone, hitting residential buildings and the building of the Security Service of Ukraine.

“We will do everything possible and impossible to make our air defence system the most powerful,” the President added.

Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia is making slow progress along the eastern and southern fronts as it combats a Russian defensive network that includes extensive minefields and pre-planned security zones used to direct and channel offensive manoeuvres.

Force structure of Ukraine’s air defences

The United States has been the largest provider of military assisstance to Ukraine, committing more than $41.2bn in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including more than $40.5bn since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion in February 2022, as of 27 June 2023.

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Ukraine’s main source of support has given Ukraine: over 1,700 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; one Patriot air defence battery and munitions; eight national advanced surface-to-air missile Systems and munitions; HAWK air defence systems and munitions; RIM-7 air defence missiles; 20 Avenger air defence systems; anti-aircraft guns and ammunition; equipment to integrate western air defence launchers, missiles, and radars with Ukraine’s air defence systems; equipment to sustain Ukraine’s existing air defence capabilities; high-speed anti-radiation missiles; precision aerial munitions; 21 air surveillance radars among many more systems.

Lately, the second largest donor to Ukraine, the UK, provided an undisclosed number of its high-precision Storm Shadow missiles. While Nato allies had to date provided land-based missile systems such as HIMARS and the ATACMS munition, offering a range of several tens of kilometres, no ally had opted to supply air-launched ground attack missiles such as these, which can reach up to 250km.

Recently, Germany announced it will provide additional Iris-T SLM missile systems to Ukraine. At the end of April, the German Bundeswehr provided the system; the second of four systems to be donated to the country. The Iris-T SLM launcher unit provides 360 degree protection against aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and guided weapons. This mobility increases responsiveness; a much-needed ability when facing advanced capabilities, as Ukraine did with a Russian hypersonic missile earlier this month.

Russian drone strikes

The country faces the problem of indiscriminate strikes – hitting military targets as well as critical national infrastructure – as Russian forces employ Iranian unmanned aerial systems.

According to an update on 13 June, the UK Ministry of Defence said that Russia has highly likely worked to ensure its long-term, high-volume supply of one-way-attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA-UAVs). By supplying these weapons, Iran continues to breach UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

While western allies continue to donate much-needed resources, Zelenskyy’s claim is still completely valid. The problem with Ukraine’s air defences is that it is not starving of a lack of systems, but for a lack of advanced capability.

A key concern for Ukraine is retaliating with aerial supremacy. While its gruelling land-based counter-offensive attempts tp overcome Russian defences, it still needs aerial assurance. The UK’s hawkish supply of Storm Shadow missiles has broken the feared barrier of escalation, but capability is still key.