Who Keeps Killing the Birds, Grandpa?

It is the Patriots… The monster slayer.

Shankar Narayan
8 min readFeb 20, 2024
Photo by US Army. Image in the Public Domain

Throughout December 2023, a series of unsettling events unfolded as Russia’s fourth and fifth generation fighter jets inexplicably plummeted from the sky.

In stark contrast to their usual fervor, the typically vocal Russian milblogging community remained eerily silent. Their conspicuous silence spoke volumes — they were aware. The Russian pilots themselves must have been acutely cognizant of the killer. If not, the wreckage would have borne the unmistakable imprint of the culprit. Yet, an eerie hush pervaded the entire Russian ultranationalist community, their collective eyes and mouth wide shut.

Ukraine, as usual, did not divulge much. Nothing more than the usual template — We brought down Russian jets.

  • A grand total of 18 Russian aircraft have been knocked out by the U.S made Patriot air-defense systems.
  • 6 jets were destroyed in the last three days.

That number is insignificant because Ukraine could have easily increased the kill rate if they had enough Patriot missiles on hand.

Ukraine is carefully rationing its Patriot missiles, as there is no clarity on the Biden administration’s ability to deliver. They must do so cautiously due to this uncertainty. The Patriots are being used by Ukraine as a deterrent to slow down Russian air operations, complicating the Russian objective of achieving air superiority to support their ground forces.

If Ukraine were fully confident in the uninterrupted flow of Patriot missiles, the number of Russian jets brought down by the Patriot systems would be significantly higher than 18.

Russian Air Force Beriev A-50U

It became clear to me that the Patriots were responsible for the streak of Russian aircraft takedowns after the A-50 early warning aircraft was brought down in mid-January. Until that point, I was still grappling with uncertainties. However, the location of the incident, over the Sea of Azov, which is more than a hundred miles from the frontline, coupled with the fact that it was an early warning aircraft designed to track enemy missiles that was targeted, led me to the logical conclusion that a highly mobile Patriot system must be operating somewhere behind the Ukrainian front.

Now, confirmation from multiple sources, including the NYTimes, indicates that the Patriot air-defense system is the reason behind the regular fall of Russian aircraft from the sky.

The Patriots were originally designed as an anti-aircraft weapon. However, over the years, they have evolved into an air-defense system primarily focused on intercepting enemy missiles. Ukraine has reverted the Patriot system back to its roots.

If the Patriots are so effective, why is Ukraine, along with their European allies, hesitating to introduce the F16s and alter the dynamics of the battlefield?

There is a reason.

A huge one at that.

In my opinion, introducing the F16s to the battlefield in the current conditions would be extremely dangerous and potentially erroneous. Similarly, we could argue that Ukraine’s use of the ultra-expensive Patriots as a mobile offense unit rather than a static defensive unit carries similar risks.

But there is a difference.

Ukraine tested the Patriot system in the field, and as soon as it was introduced, the Russians launched a barrage of attacks against it. Between mid-April and mid-May 2023, Russia deployed all available resources to attempt to destroy the Patriot air-defense system.

The most spectacular assault occurred on May 16th, when the Russians launched a massive volley of cruise and ballistic missiles. This was preceded by a significant drone attack against the Patriot system stationed in Kyiv. The missiles were of various types, launched from different vehicles and directions, all within a small time window.

“This time, the enemy launched a complex assault from multiple directions simultaneously, using UAVs, cruise missiles and probably ballistic missiles. This attack was exceptional in its density, with the maximum number of attacking missiles in the shortest time possible,” said Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration.

The Modern War Institute published a detailed analysis on the Russian military’s efforts to destroy the Patriots, highlighting how the air-defense system withstood every assault thrown its way.

The truly impressive takeaway from the Patriot systems in Ukrainian service is not the singular takedown of the first Kinzhal but the Patriot’s performance under saturation bombardment. The May 16 air raid on Kyiv featured every category of long-range precision munition in the Russian arsenal: unmanned aerial vehicles as well as cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missiles were all used in a coordinated saturation attack intended to overwhelm Ukrainian air defenses and destroy their systems. The saturation attack works through filling the three-dimensional airspace with more incoming targets than the defense can handle using a combination of land-, sea-, or air-launched missile platforms, a coordinated impact time, varied altitudes and azimuths of approach, decoys and countermeasures, and sheer numbers.

The ability of the Patriots donated by the United States and Germany to detect, track, and defeat this saturation attack coming from all different directions showcases the impressive advancements and upgrades that the venerable system has experienced since the Patriot was first updated for use against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles in the 1990s after its less-than-impressive showing against those threats during the Gulf War. Modern air defense systems have never faced a threat on the level of the current Russians air raids against Ukraine.

May 16th will go down in history as the worst day for the Russian missile manufacturing industry. Every successful and unsuccessful kill made by the Patriot system contributes to its learning process. With each encounter, the algorithm receives updates, enhancing the entire network’s response. It gains insights into what strategies are effective and which are not.

After observing the performance of the Patriots on the battlefield, Ukraine gradually began to take some risks.

“On May 13, the Ukrainians sneaked a Patriot launcher to an area near the Russian border and took down five aircraft”. Then they moved the Patriot again. On May 22nd, they brought down an Su-35, a fourth generation fighter jet flying over the Sea of Azov.

After those two hits, Ukraine fell silent. Then, in December 2023, Russian aircraft began falling from the sky like birds encountering a pack of hunters lying in wait. Since then, the Patriot has been consistently bringing down Russian aircrafts.

Ukraine took its time to expand the risk profile of the Patriot, proceeding with caution and deliberation. They did so only after gaining sufficient experience and confidence in their ability to protect the system while effectively targeting Russian aircraft.

Even so, I don’t believe Ukraine is utilizing the Patriot as a frontline offensive weapon. Instead, it is being strategically maneuvered around the frontline to serve as a deterrent, complicating Russian strategies and hindering their efforts to attain complete control of the skies. The knowledge that a Patriot system is mobile along the frontline restricts the extent of Russian air capacity that can be effectively deployed.

Ukraine’s capacity to employ the Patriots is constrained by the quantity of air-defense missiles at their disposal. They are not in a position to comfortably engage every Russian aircraft entering occupied territory, nor can they afford to launch daily hit-and-run attacks. The Patriot missiles are crucial for protecting urban centers and other vital military assets, making their allocation a strategic challenge for Ukraine.

Imagine introducing the F16s tomorrow onto the Ukrainian battlefield. Russia’s likely course of action would involve targeting and destroying all airfields from which the F16s are launching. In response, Ukraine would rely on its Patriots and other air-defense systems to intercept incoming Russian missiles. Given Russia’s substantial arsenal of hundreds of missiles, Ukraine may not possess sufficient resources to intercept them all effectively. Russia may end up destroying a good number of F16s.

Russia will try to hit the airfields

Ukraine is stockpiling its Patriot missiles

Missiles that the Biden administration possesses but may not be able to provide due to the ongoing political battle with the MAGA Republicans in Congress.

The battlefield dynamics in Ukraine will undergo a profound transformation once the F16s are deployed. The Patriots will push Russian pilots deeper into occupied territory, thereby creating an opening for Ukrainian F16s to unleash devastation on a concentrated sector, like Verbove. Hour after hour, they’ll rain air-to-ground missiles down upon the Russian forces, while drones monitor the strikes. Subsequently, artillery will be ordered to join the offensive, followed by the deployment of mine-clearing vehicles. Armored vehicles, supported by infantry, will then advance. This cycle will continue until the objective is achieved.

That is precisely what Ukraine must prioritize. This will become the primary objective once the F16s are deployed, as they will significantly bolster Ukraine’s combat capabilities. Introducing the F16s now, while facing shortages in artillery and air-defense systems, would only expose this critical asset to potential destruction. Once lost, they cannot be easily replaced.

The crucial factor in introducing F16s onto the battlefield lies in two essential elements: Ukraine must address the shortages in artillery and air-defense missiles. It’s concerning to rely on the Biden administration to rectify this situation, as it places Ukraine in a vulnerable position.

Europe’s artillery production is steadily increasing each month, and it is expected to reach a reasonable level by the second half of this year. In the first week of January, NATO awarded a $5.5 billion contract to COMLOG, a joint venture between the US company Raytheon and the German company MBDA, to manufacture 1,000 Patriot missiles in Germany.

If the Biden administration fails to pass the Ukraine aid, Europe may need to acquire the Patriot missiles stored in American warehouses and then return them after they are manufactured in Europe. This provides an alternative solution to avoid dependency on the Biden administration.

Ukraine must await the arrival of the F16s, even if their pilots are fully trained and prepared. As for how long Europe will take to address this supply gap, I honestly have no idea. However, that is the duration Ukraine must endure without the support of F16s and without fully utilizing the offensive potential of the Patriots.

And please do not share this article with anyone in the Biden administration. If they were to realize the potential impact of Patriots working with F16s, it could change the battle in favor of Ukraine. They might then call Raytheon and ask them to reduce the operational range of the Patriots from 160km to 40km.

They reduced the operational range of HIMARS (Multiple Rocket Launchers) because they thought it would hurt Putin’s feelings. So, there is a possibility that if they realize the impact Patriots can have on the battlefield by the way Ukraine is using them, then they might try to protect Putin’s feelings.

What about the hospitals Putin’s army keeps bombing? The Biden administration will respond with devastating statements.

What about Putin’s political killings? Even more devastating statements.

What about North Korea supplying weapons to Russia despite warnings? Statements, of-course.




Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.