Are US-made Patriots better for Europe than the French/Italian air defense missiles? Ukraine got the answer

President Emmanuel Macron is using every opportunity to reverse the German decision to deploy Patriots for a comprehensive air defense dome over Europe. Macron makes an argument that the rockets should be made locally.

The Germans agree but partially. They believe that the German-made Iris-T will be enough.

Sky Shield over Europe

So, Chancellor Scholz proposed that an air defense Sky Shield be set up over Europe. It’ll have the following components:

  • the German-made Iris-T missiles for medium-range protection (it carries a payload of a bit over 10 kg, the rocket is almost 90 kg, 3 m long)
  • the US-made Patriots for long-range (it carries a payload of 90 kg, the rocket weight hovers around 500 kg, 5 m long), and
  • the Israeli-US Arrow-3 for even longer range (carries a payload of 500 kg).

Germany signed up 17 countries between October 2022 and June 2023, including the UK and countries on the Baltic Sea (Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).

Poland, another Baltic state, joined France and Italy in opposing the German initiative. The Polish right-wing government’s motivation is not entirely clear, but it does coalesce with Italy’s PM Giorgia Meloni and recently warmed up to Emmanuel Macron.

The Franco-Italian SAMP-T missile defense system (made by MBDA and Thales) has similar specs as the Patriots. Thus, Sky Shield’s news made a Franco-German summit postponed in 2022. And in June 2023, Emmanuel Macron used the Paris Air Show to convince the European dignitaries to keep the production of long-range component of the dome in Europe. Macron argues that air defense is a strategic issue and not a conventional question of where it’s produced and under what timeline. “When I see certain countries which increase their defense spending to massively buy non-European systems, I simply tell them: ‘You are preparing the problems of tomorrow!’” – he is quoted by the Financial Times.

Ukraine deploys both Patriots and SAMP/Ts

In May 2023, Ukraine downed Russian hypersonic missile with US Patriot that it got just in late April 2023 from the US and Germany. Russia launched it from a MiG-31K aircraft from the Russian territory. The air-launched ballistic missile had a range of up to 2,000 km (about 1,250 mi) and flied at 10 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept.

SAMP/Ts have also been supplied to Ukraine – see Taking stock of French military aid to Ukraine – AIR DEFENSE. Yet, it has not had a chance to fight Putin’s hypersonic missiles yet because it was delivered in just late May 2023 from Italy.

For Macron, the stakes are high not only because of the contracts but also because he threw down the gauntlet. Last time he did that was in 2021 when Australia switched from buying the French-made diesel subs and US-made nuclear subs. The political component of that switch was AUKUS, a NATO-like defense alliance against China’s militarism.

Macron is better prepared today. His political underpinning is the Weimar Triangle.

It remains to be seen in the coming months if Ukraine gives Macron and Meloni enough evidence to bolster the claim that most of the European air defense dome structure should be produced in Europe.

So far, Meloni seems to have done more business devlopment than Macron: it’s probably with her help that the Polish government, her conservative partners at the European Parliament, has not joined the German Sky Shield initiative despite all of its Baltic neighbors have. It seems Macron made the spat public but it is Meloni that is in the driving seat. We will see in the coming months if this setup can work for Macron.

Picture source: Politico
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