Air Defense: Japan Exports Patriot Missiles


January 12, 2024: Japan is the only foreign nation licensed to build Patriot air defense missiles for their own use. Now Japan is selling Japanese-built Patriot missiles to the United States so the Americans can rebuild their stockpiles after sending so many Patriot missiles to Ukraine. According to the post-World War II Japanese constitution, Japan has limited war making capabilities. In the last decade the rules were changed to make it easier for Japan to export weapons for allied nations that were not at war. This includes support equipment like replacement engines for jet aircraft as well as electronic equipment used in ships and aircraft. Japan is supplying Ukraine with all these items.

The U.S. and other NATO countries have been supplying Ukraine with weapons and this has included Patriot missile batteries. The Ukrainians have been firing a lot of Patriot missiles at Russian warplanes and that has prevented Russian warplanes from launching attacks on Ukraine while also shooting down several Russian combat aircraft.

Japan adopted the Patriot Missile systems in 1993 and eventually obtained permission to build Patriot missiles under license. Japan does this local production for several American weapons systems. The United States encourages this because Japan is willing and able to build Americans weapons under license. For the Americans, this provides a second source, besides the American manufacturer, for key weapons.

The Patriot missile exports to the United States was made possible by Japan adopting a record $56 billion 2024 defense budget.

This also enables Japan to continue maintaining and upgrading the Patriot systems it has built for their own use. For example, during the last decade Japan has been upgrading its 24 Patriot missile batteries and will have it completed in five or six years. The main improvement is to increase the range of the PAC-3 anti-missile missile to 30 kilometers. The upgrades are performed in Japan under license from the American manufacturer.

In 2007 Japan began expanding, redeploying, and upgrading its Patriot forces in response to the growing threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles and nukes. This was trial and error at first. For example, Japan had to move one of its Patriot anti-missile launching sites because a 38 story building going up nearby threatened to become an obstacle if any missiles were fired. Initially Patriot anti-missile missile batteries were set up inside Tokyo. This had to be done because the anti-missile version of Patriot, the PAC 3, can only defend out to about twenty kilometers. These launching sites were considered emergency launching sites. The Patriot system is mobile and built to be moved quickly and set up in new locations.

Normally, Patriot, or any other type of anti-aircraft missile is positioned in a wide open space, to avoid missiles colliding with anything but their intended targets. Missiles are not really guided at take-off, just pointed in the general direction of the target. The guidance system kicks in within a few seconds, but by then the missile may have gone several kilometers. That's because the solid fuel rocket motor is basically a slow burning explosive. The fuel is often all gone very quickly.

Patriot missiles are also very noisy when they launch. Basically, it's a sudden, and very loud, explosion. If you are at home asleep when that happens, you will definitely wake up. This was the experience of civilians living within several kilometers of Patriot batteries in northern Saudi Arabia in 1991. The Japanese can live with the loud noise of a Patriot missile taking off, but not with the after-effects of said missile colliding with a nearby skyscraper. The Japanese solved the tall buildings problem by moving some batteries to high ground, usually in a park.

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 PAC 2 anti-aircraft version, 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 30 kilometers) versus 160 kilometers for the PAC 2 anti-aircraft version used against low flying UAVs. Patriot can also take down cruise missiles or larger UAVs.




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