Air Defense: March 25, 2003


The British Tornado fighter shot down by a Patriot missile on March 24th was the first aircraft ever downed by a Patriot. Development of the Patriot began in the early 1960s as the "SAM-D." The usual bureaucratic delays, and the rapid appearance of new technologies, slowed the system up, and it didn't enter service until 1982. But even then, new electronic capabilities made it possible to adapt the Patriot to anti-missile work. The main requirement here was data processing speed, because a ballistic missile warhead returns to earth at high speed (over 3,000 miles an hour) and you have to be fast to get a shot off.  Why try to make the Patriot an anti-missile missile? For the simple reason that U.S. anti-aircraft have had few targets since World War II. The U.S. Air Force has been supreme in the air, and a more likely foe would be ballistic missiles. The Gulf War showed that this approach had more promise than performance. So in 1988,the first Patriot anti-missile missile (PAC-1) entered service. Work continued on the anti-missile capabilities, and in 1990, PAC-2 missiles entered service. These were used during the 1991 Gulf War. The Iraqi SCUDs, modified (with a lengthened fuselage to accommodate more fuel) broke apart when they reentered the atmosphere and presented the waiting Patriot radars with several objects, only one of which was the warhead. Based on that experience, more improvements in accuracy, discrimination (telling junk from warheads)  and lethality (ability to destroy the warhead), resulted in the PAC-3 missile, which entered service in 1995. Improved PAC-3 missiles entered service in 2001. Both versions are  being used in Iraq in 2003. The problem with shooting down the Tornado was most likely related to IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe). Every warplane carries an IFF beacon, the broadcasts a coded message to friendly aircraft and anti-aircraft systems. Either the IFF beacon in the Tornado, or the IFF equipment with the Patriot fire control system, was faulty. This made rapidly approaching Tornado appear on the radar as a hostile aircraft. The fire control officer had second to either fire at the apparently "hostile" aircraft, or risk an air attack on friendly forces. 


Article Archive

Air Defense: Current 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close