The deadly barrage of missiles and kamikaze drones that have landed in Ukraine since Monday once again underscores the importance of air defense systems. So, at the urging of President Volodymyr Zelensky, Western leaders pledged once again this week to speed up the delivery of such systems to Ukraine. The first of four German Iris-T air defense systems arrived on Tuesday, with a range of 40 kilometers. US President Joe Biden promised to speed up delivery of the Nasams (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, range 50 kilometers), two of which are due to arrive in Ukraine this year, and six in 2023. known that the Netherlands is also sending anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine . Will it help? On Monday, Ukrainian air defenses said it shot down 43 of the 84 incoming missiles and 13 of the 24 incoming drones. On Tuesday, about half of the attacks were again intercepted. But enough projectiles still got through to cause dozens of deaths and injuries, destroying electricity infrastructure, roads, parks and a playground. Also read: Rain from cruise missiles on Ukraine also shows weakness Russian army soviet-made So far, the backbone of Ukrainian air defense has been the Soviet-made long-range S-300 system (range between 75 and 150 kilometers). Before the raid, the country had 31 of these, of which an unknown number have since been taken out. Slovakia donated one. The problem is that the S-300 missiles are running out and are no longer supplied by the Russian manufacturer. For shorter distances, Ukraine had a dozen Book-M1 systems (range thirty kilometers), infamous for the downing of the airliner MH17. But the ammunition for this is also becoming scarcer. The Nasams and Iris-T should replace these Soviet systems, says Paul van Hooft, a defense analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies, who researches air defense. “Short- and medium-range systems of this kind consist of a radar installation to detect the incoming missile, a command post with the crew, and multi-missile launchers.” It takes time to increase production of new weapon systems Paul van Hooft defense analyst In a well-designed air defense the batteries talk to each other. For example, one radar post can signal the incoming missile and pass it on to another, which follows the missile and has missiles fired at it. For even shorter ranges, there are the Manpads, shoulder-fired missiles like the Western Stinger and Soviet heirloom Igla. There are also anti-aircraft guns such as the Gepard, of which Germany supplied 24, which fires a curtain of 550 rounds per minute at the target. Except for the short-range systems, of which the West has already supplied thousands, the replacement of Soviet equipment has barely begun. Van Hooft: „The production of new weapon systems, including air defense systems, is still at the low level of peacetime. It takes time to increase that.” The US did not need air defense against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The German Iris-T air defense system in an undated photo. Photo Abaca Press/ANP Kamikaze Drones With the systems that are already there, everything depends on how you use them, says Van Hooft. “There are many variables that determine success, such as: which threat you are trying to defeat.” For example, Russia deploys ballistic missiles, such as the seven-meter long Iskander-M. “They go extremely fast, up to 8,000 kilometers per hour, and come in a parabolic orbit almost from above.” It is extremely difficult for air defense systems to take out these missiles, even though they are large and not very manoeuvrable. Cruise missiles like the Kalibr, powered by a rocket engine, are slower: around 800 kilometers per hour. “But they fly lower, at a height of fifty to one hundred meters, so they only show up on the radar later,” says Van Hooft. “In addition, they are manoeuvrable and can therefore swerve.” Even slower, around 180 kilometers per hour, are propeller-driven kamikazedrones such as Iran’s Shahed-136 drones. Van Hooft: “They are slow, but small and manoeuvrable, so difficult to hit, and they can fly even lower than cruise missiles, between buildings.” In addition, they are cheap, tens of thousands of dollars each, so they can be used in large numbers. According to Ukrainian military intelligence, Russia has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136s from Iran. “The missile of many air defense systems is more expensive than the drone itself,” says Van Hooft. Layered Air Defense To respond to all these threats, in addition to a layered air defence, knowledge, experience and training are also required, says Van Hooft. “It is often about responding within seconds, but you see that the Ukrainians are getting better at that.” For example, an online video from Monday shows how soldiers shoot a cruise missile from the sky with a Manpad to cheers. Van Hooft: “I would not have thought that possible.” Van Hooft: „You have to make all kinds of considerations: which systems do you use, which direction do your radars look, and above all: where do you put them? It is physically impossible to put the whole country under an air defense umbrella. For a single large city you would need dozens of batteries. No country can afford that. There are not that many systems at all. Moreover, they are also needed at the front, to protect soldiers and equipment, so hard choices have to be made.” In short: the replacement of air defense systems by Western countries will never fully safeguard the Ukrainians. Nevertheless, the Russian attacks will also become less and less effective militarily, Van Hooft suspects. “There are many indications that Russia is running out of missiles.” For example, the used ones are increasingly old-fashioned, non-precise types, and for example missiles of the own S-300 air defense system, which are not intended for that purpose at all, and can therefore hardly be aimed. Van Hooft: “They can really only sow terror.” Also read: Residents of Kiev have to take shelter again: ‘It looked like the day Russia invaded’ A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 14, 2022