Air Defense: Swedish Patriotism


November 23, 2017: In late 2017 Sweden decided to upgrade its air defenses with the American Patriot system. For decades Sweden had been using the older Hawk system and was in the midst of upgrading Hawk when it was realized that even a much improved Hawk could not deal with all the new weapons Russia was developing. While Hawk has been upgraded continuously since it entered service in 1959, some countries have gone beyond that but even in those cases, like South Korea, it was found that there was only so much you could do with Hawk..

The decision to procure Hawk hinged on several key factors. Longer range was needed (Hawk was only good for 40 kilometers) proven ability to stop ballistic missiles was essential. Patriot has been doing that regularly and with increasing effectiveness since the 1990s. Finally, a system that would receive constant updates for enemy countermeasures. The United States has proved capable of doing this during the Cold War and even though Sweden was neutral the Americans kept the Swedish Hawks (known as RB-97) up to date against the Russian threat. That threat was supposed to have disappeared in the 1990s but now the threat is back. The most visible aspect of this is the revival of Russian military aircraft violating Swedish airspace as they did during the Cold War. Russia conducted simulated air attacks on Sweden in March 2013 and continue to use aging Swedish air defenses for practice.

The American made Raytheon Patriot system had one serious competitor, the French-Italian Aster 30 (known as SAMP/T when configured like Patriot). SAMP/T had a lot going for it but Patriot was competitive and combat proven.

The cost of replacing Hawk batteries with Patriot will be about $1.2 billion and deliveries will probably begin in 2020 and be completed by 20225. While the Swedes were keen to get anti-missile capability they will also use Patriot against manned and unmanned aircraft. Thus Swedish Patriot batteries will be equipped with longer range GEM-T missiles for aircraft and shorter range PAC-3 MSE ones for missiles. Sweden has not decided on exactly which search and fire control radars to get. Patriot has been in service since the 1980s and a lot of options have been developed. Another option is ordering a current radar or one of the new 360 degrees coverage) ones. The second gray area is system architecture because there isn’t word about current PDB-8 or the newer open architecture which will use IBCS. On the other hand the relatively quick delivery timeline suggest components “from the shelf” rather than better items still under development. The experience with Hawk was that upgrades were constant and affordable.

The Patriot has been in service since 1984 end has gone through its baptism of fire in 1990 when it was used against Iraqi ballistic missiles (SCUD) fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its success rate was mediocre at best achieving around 40 to 70 percent but it been due the modifications Iraqis made to their SCUD to extend their range. As a result the SCUDs had tendency to fall apart during last terminal flight phase which created unintended countermeasures. The some big debris like additional fuel tank were seen by Patriot radar as actual missile warhead section. In some cases warhead or mentioned coming down in fatal velocity debris caused casualties. The other targets were drones but firing $3 million dollar missile at Hezbollah homemade drones as Israeli forces did a few times isn’t healthy for economy so they are seeking a cheaper solution for UAVs. For manned aircraft the Patriot have acquired its first target in 2014 when also Israeli Patriot shot down a Syrian Su-24. For coverage for example the Israel has six Patriot batteries what is enough to cover all 1,280 kilometers of land and coastal borders.

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 if available (for example GEM-T and PAC-3 MSE). The first one is older and cheaper designed for manned aircraft (range up to 160 kilometers) while the second is the newest and about twice more expensive (about $4 million) anti-ballistic one which has about 35 kilometers range vs this kind of targets).

The Patriot system (with upgrades) will likely to be used till 2040-2050. Since 1960 over 10,000 missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service some were reused and remote to new variants while others were scraped.

The Raytheon Patriot system achieved quite export success because it is used for now by 12 countries (in various variants). The recent deal with Romania for about $950 million and this Swedish tender it will raise system user number to 14 which is very impressive for such expensive defense system. Meanwhile the Sweden will get system to close one of their key gap in their Anti-access/area denial A2AD capabilities. This deal also an investment in depending USA-Sweden defense relationship which is seen as very important for Sweden. It seems that this is a one of the biggest reason for Eurosam SAMP/T (mostly French) lose. --- Przemysław Juraszek




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