Air Defense: Patriot Knocks Them Into The Mediterranean


April 3,2008: The U.S. recently allowed its only Patriot battalion in Europe to hold a live fire exercise at a firing range on the island of Crete. The targets were four missiles, and two drone aircraft. All targets were destroyed. Seven PAC-3 missiles (costing $3.3 million each) were fired at the missiles, while three PAC-2 missiles (costing $2 million each) were fired at the unmanned aircraft. In most cases, two missiles are fired at each target, to ensure a kill. These days, Patriot units are more concerned with knocking down missiles, than aircraft.

Total costs of the exercise was over $25 million. For most of the troops involved, this was the first time they had ever fired an actual missile. Because of the high cost of the missiles, most training is done with simulated missiles. At the end of the Cold War, there were six U.S. Patriot battalions in Europe. Most of these have been sent back to the U.S., or other hot spots (Middle East, Korea).

The Patriot PAC 2 missiles have a range of 70 kilometers. The Patriot launchers also fire the smaller (in diameter) PAC 3 anti-missile missiles. 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, of about 20 kilometers. Each Patriot battalion has 12-24 launchers (3-6 batteries). The PAC 3 was used for the first time during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Iraqis fired eleven long range ballistic missiles at American targets (usually headquarters) and PAC 3 missiles took down eight of them.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the larger, anti-aircraft version (PAC 2) of the Patriot missile, modified for use against missiles, knocked down about 70 percent of the missiles the Iraqis fired. There is still some dispute over this, largely because the Iraqis had modified their SCUD missiles to give them longer range. This made the missiles less accurate, and it was difficult to tell if a SCUD missed because an exploding Patriot warhead was involved, or simply because that was where the inaccurate missile came down.

The Patriot missiles would often hit something, but it was difficult to tell if the target hit was the warhead or fuselage. That's one reason why two PAC 3s are fired at each target. In any event, the longer range SCUDs are so inaccurate that, unless they are being fired at a large target (like a city) they are unlikely to hit anything valuable. The Iraqis made the increased range modification during their 1980s war with Iran, when the missiles were fired at the Iranian capital, Tehran. It's still unclear if the Iraqis even knew of the "breaking up on re-entry" problem, not that it mattered. As long as their missile hit somewhere inside Tehran, it was a success.

Shorter range ballistic missiles rarely use any kind of deceptions, and Pac-3 is pretty good at stopping them. Longer range missiles come in too fast and sometimes accompanied by deceptions.




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