Air Defense: Must Have More Patriots


December18, 2006: The U.S. Army wants to form more Patriot SAM (Surface to Air) missile battalions. Each battalion has a phased array radar, and four to eight launchers (each carrying four missiles.) There are currently eleven Patriot battalions, with two more in the process of formation.

The Patriot has been in great demand by army commanders. But not so much for protection from enemy aircraft, but because the Patriot has become a credible anti-missile system. The Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile missiles cost $3.2 million each and are the result of two decades of development. First used during the 1991 Gulf War, the current (PAC-3) version shot down two Iraqi missiles in 2003.

During the 2003 operation, 22 Patriot missiles were fired. Two of these took down two coalition aircraft. Electronic and software problems caused the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems to fail. This is less of a problem with incoming missiles, as they are rarely friendly. The PAC-3 missile is designed to take down shorter range missiles like the SCUD, and similar missiles used by China, North Korea and Iran.

It's uncertain if the Patriot electronics and software have been tweaked to the point where they can shoot down longer range missiles like the ones North Korea, or China, might fire at places like Okinawa. As a general rule, the longer the range of a ballistic missile, the faster it goes when moving downward towards its target. Longer range missiles approach the ground at over two kilometers per second. The Patriot missiles can reach up about 20 kilometers. This means the Patriot missile has to be fired quickly, and accurately, because it has only seconds to knock down the target. When defending against missiles, the Patriot system is put on automatic. If something resembling a ballistic missile comes within range, a PAC-3 is automatically fired on an intercept course. Often two are launched, to insure a hit. Development of the Patriot continues, mainly in the area of decreasing response time, and rigging the Patriot system to work with other radar systems (like space based early warning networks that can spot longer range missiles long before the Patriot radar can.)

The U.S. already has PAC-3 equipped Patriot batteries in South Korea, Japan and Iraq.




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