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US officials say damage to Patriot missile defense system was minimal following Russian attack near Kyiv

<i>Ibrahim Erikan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</i><br/>
Ibrahim Erikan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

By Natasha Bertrand, Oren Liebermann and Jim Sciutto, CNN

(CNN) — The damage to a Patriot air defense system following a Russian missile attack near Kyiv on Tuesday morning is minimal, three US officials tell CNN, with one official describing it as “minor” damage.

The US sent inspectors to examine the system on Tuesday after being told by Ukrainian forces that the system appeared to have been damaged, one official said.

The system itself is still operational, the officials said, and the radar component of the Patriot, one of its most important elements, was not damaged. US officials do not believe the Patriot will need to be removed from the battlefield for repairs.

A complete Patriot battery has six major components: generators, a radar set, a control station, antennas, a launcher station and interceptor missiles. The components operate together to fire a Patriot missile and successfully guide it to its target.

Two components of the system were damaged, according to a US official familiar with the matter, but the system “was never offline” and remained functional throughout the attack, they said.

It’s not clear if it was damaged by an actual missile strike or falling debris. The Ukrainians said they successfully intercepted all six Russian Kinzhal missiles on Tuesday morning.

Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, has told Ukrainian TV that the US-made Patriot system could not be destroyed by a Kinzhal missile.

“Do not worry about the fate of the Patriot. From a technical point of view, Patriot is a … system,” he said, noting that it consisted of components that can be located at a distance from one another.

On Tuesday, a US official said the Patriot system was likely damaged, but not destroyed, as the result of a Russian missile barrage in and around Kyiv early Tuesday morning local time.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday in a post on Telegram that “a high-precision strike by the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system in the city of Kyiv hit a US-made Patriot anti-aircraft missile system.”

Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday that they successfully intercepted all six hypersonic missiles fired by the Russians, but the Ukrainian military declined to comment on the Russians’ claim that a Patriot system was hit. “We cannot comment on this. We’ll stay out of commenting on Russian sources,” Ihnat said.

Ukraine currently has two Patriot air defense systems in country, one donated by the US and the other donated jointly by Germany and the Netherlands. It is unclear which of those systems was damaged, but taking one out of commission – even for a short period – would affect Ukraine’s ability to defend Kyiv amid intensifying Russian missile attacks.

Russia has targeted the Patriot systems with hypersonic missiles before, US officials told CNN last week, including once on May 4. That attack failed, and Ukrainians successfully intercepted the missile before it could hit the Patriot, the officials said.

After extensive lobbying by the Ukrainians to provide them with the sophisticated air defense system, the US spent 10 weeks training Ukrainian troops on how to maintain and operate it. US and western officials were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the Ukrainians learned how to operate the Patriots, which arrived in Ukraine last month.

The Patriot has a powerful radar to detect incoming targets at long range, making it a potent air defense platform capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and more. But the radar emission necessary to spot threats at a distance also makes it possible for the enemy to detect the Patriot battery and figure out its location.

US officials believe the Russian military has been able to pick up on signals that are emitted from the Patriot, allowing them to target the system using the hypersonic missile, known as the Kinzhal or Killjoy. And unlike some shorter-range air defenses provided to Ukraine that are mobile and harder to target, the large Patriot battery is a larger and more stationary system, making it possible for the Russian forces to zero in on the location over time.

Russia has been expending more munitions than usual in an attempt to overwhelm and confuse Ukrainian air defenses, according to a US official familiar with the matter. Russia has launched the larger aerial attacks from several directions at once, the official said, targeting command and control centers in Kyiv and other high-value locations, as well as the Patriot missile systems that provide Ukraine with a long-range air defense option.

Russia may have begun the expanded attacks in an attempt to force Ukraine to delay its highly-anticipated counter-offensive, the official said. But Ukraine has been able to withstand the attacks, intercepting a high percentage of the incoming missiles and drones with the layered air defenses provided by Western nations.

The expanded attacks may even work to Ukraine’s advantage, the official said, as Russia dips deeper into its limited supply of precision munitions.

On Tuesday, Russia unleashed its barrage with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles launched from fighter jets, Kalibr cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea, and land-based Iskander missiles, the head of Ukraine’s military said. The attack came from the north, south, and east.

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