Air Defense: Patriot Gets It Done Against UAVs And Cruise Missiles


December 3, 2014: Initially Israel used F-16s to shoot down UAVs entering its air space, but the radar used by its Patriot Air Defense systems has been tweaked to the point where these intruding UAVs can be taken care of a lot more quickly than with F-16s. While it is more than ten times as expensive to use the Patriot, especially if the F-16 uses its cannon rather than a missile to destroy the UAV, Israel finds that the extra cost is often worth it. Thus three times this year (twice in July and once in August) Patriot quickly spotted and destroyed intruding UAVs. Two of those UAVs came out of Gaza, where they are minutes from residential areas or military bases.

The Iranian Ababil is the most commonly encountered hostile UAV over Israel. This is an 83 kg (183 pound) UAV with a three meter (ten foot) wing span, a payload of about 36 kg (80 pounds), a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and an endurance of 90 minutes. The Ababil is known to operate as far as 120 kilometers from its ground controller. But it also has a guidance system that allows it to fly a pre-programmed route and then return to the control of its controllers for a landing (which is by parachute). The Ababil can carry a variety of day and night still and video cameras. There are many inexpensive and very capable cameras available on the open market, as is the equipment needed to transmit video and pictures back to the ground. In the last decade the Ababil has been improved and now has a range (from the operator) of 240 kilometers and is designed to carry a 45 kg (99 pound) warhead.

Israel has six Patriot batteries. Each Patriot battery is manned by about a hundred troops, and each contains a radar and four launchers. A battery can fire two types of Patriot missile. The $3.3 million PAC 3 missile is smaller than the anti-aircraft version (PAC 2), thus a Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles, versus four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton, a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that. The PAC 3 has a shorter range (about 20 kilometers) versus 160 kilometers for the PAC 2 anti-aircraft version used against low flying UAVs. Given this long range and the small size of Israel the six Israeli Patriot batteries can cover nearly all the 1,280 kilometers of land and coastal borders. Patriot can also take down cruise missiles, which is basically what a UAV is if equipped with a warhead and sent on a one-way bombing mission.





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