BRUSSELS, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Germany and more than a dozen NATO partners aim to jointly procure air defence systems that protect allied territory from missiles, eyeing Israel's Arrow 3 system, U.S. Patriot and German IRIS-T units among the options, Berlin said on Thursday.
"With this initiative, we are living up to our joint responsibility for security in Europe - by bundling our resources," German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said during a ceremony at NATO's Brussels headquarters where 14 countries signed a letter of intent.
Estonia wasn't present at the event but will also be part of the initiative, dubbed "European Sky Shield". In total it comprises half of NATO's members - including Germany, Britain, Slovakia, Norway, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czechia, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovenia.
Ground-based air defence systems such as Raytheon's (RTX.N) Patriot units or the more recently developed IRIS-T are in short supply in many Western nations, which were reluctant to invest too much money in military capabilities after the end of the Cold War.
Russia's war in Ukraine has cast a spotlight on the shortage, as Kyiv scrambles to acquire as many air defence units as it can to protect cities and critical infrastructures from Russian air attacks.
Lambrecht said countries were seeking to quickly move on the first deals.
"We will work speedily on the first joint projects, the joint purchase of Patriot units is one of them as well as of the modern system IRIS-T," she told reporters. IRIS-T is built by German defence company Diehl.
Berlin this week delivered the first of four IRIS-T SLM systems to Ukraine but Germany's own Bundeswehr armed forces does itself not have the system in inventory. At the same time, Berlin wants to ramp up the number of Patriot units it has.
While Patriot and IRIS-T cover the medium layer of air defence, countries will also discuss procuring systems for the higher layer, such as Arrow 3 produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) (ISRAI.UL), and short-range systems designed to protect smaller areas or military convoys, for example.
"We need to fill these gaps quickly, we are living in threatening, dangerous times," Lambrecht said, who also signalled that she would prefer to buy Arrow 3 for the higher layer.
"No decision has been taken yet but I think it (Arrow 3) would be the right system,...that it would be a very good system for the challenge in Europe," she noted.
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