US asks allies to ‘dig deep’ for Ukrainian air defense

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is urging allied defense leaders to “dig deep” and provide more air defense systems for Ukraine, to help the country block increasing barrages of Russian missiles.

“Air defense is saving lives,” Austin says as he opens a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “So I urge this group to continue to dig deep on ground-based air defense for Ukraine. We must continue to push hard to provide Ukraine with air-defense systems and interceptors.”

The group is made up of defense and military leaders from more than 50 nations and is the main forum for raising contributions of weapons, other equipment and training for Kyiv’s war effort. It meets about once a month, in person and virtually, and this is the 15th gathering. Israel has quietly participated in the past, but has resisted calls to supply its Iron Dome short-range interceptor. It’s not clear if an Israeli representative is there today.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, rear center, delivers a speech as he hosts the meeting of the Ukraine Security Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, on April 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly pushed for long-distance weapons. Proponents have argued that Ukrainian forces need to be able to strike Russian troops and facilities while still staying out of range.

But the US has continued to balk, expressing longstanding worries that Kyiv could use the weapons to hit deep into Russian territory and enrage Moscow.

The Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, could give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from as far away as about 180 miles (300 kilometers), but the US also has other variants of the missile that have a shorter range.

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