Air Defense: Where the Patriot Missile Batteries Are


April 19, 2024: Patriot has been in service since 1984 and experienced its first sustained combat in 1990, when it was used against Iraqi SCUD ballistic missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its success rate, 40 to 70 percent, was mediocre at best. That was largely due to the improvised modifications Iraqis made to their SCUDs to extend their range. As a result, the SCUDs tended to fall apart during the terminal (speeding down towards the target) flight phase which created unintended countermeasures. Some of the larger pieces of these modified SCUDs, like additional fuel tanks, broke away and were seen by Patriot radar as the actual missile warhead section. In some cases, non-warhead portions, like the fuel tanks carrying very toxic fuel, of the SCUD came down on military or civilian personnel on the ground. Subsequent upgrades to Patriot increased accuracy against deliberate or accidental countermeasures.

Patriot has been used against UAVs but firing a missile costing over four million dollars at homemade UAVs, as Israeli forces did a few times, isn’t healthy for the economy so Israel developed cheaper solutions for UAVs.

Although initially designed to be used against manned aircraft, the Patriot did not face this threat very often and it wasn’t until 2014 when Patriot downed one. An Israeli Patriot shot down a Syrian Su-24 fighter-bomber. While Patriot was originally designed for use against aircraft, most of what it has shot down have been ballistic missiles, either SCUDs or more recent Iranian and Russian designs. The UAE sent a battery to Yemen where it successfully defended major military bases from Iranian ballistic missile attacks. Arab Patriot users have developed a lot of missile crews with combat experience and that has helped attract capable recruits to air defense work, which is usually seen as less prestigious than traditional service with ground, air, and naval combat units. During 2023 Patriot Systems began operating in Ukraine, with the usual spectacular results. This was especially the case with the Ukrainians, who tended to find additional uses for many of the weapons they received from NATO countries.

Since 1970 over 10,000 Patriot missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service, some were updated while others were scrapped. Patriot missiles can, with regular upgrades and refurbishment, remain in use for over 40 years. A growing number of Patriot missiles are doing just that, but many are still fired each year for training and testing. Most Patriot batteries are equipped with both longer-range GEM-T missiles for aircraft and shorter-range PAC-3 MSE ones for ballistic missiles or, if necessary, aircraft. The PAC 2 is older, cheaper, and designed to intercept manned aircraft at ranges up to 160 kilometers, while the PAC 3 is the newest and about twice as expensive (over $4 million). The Patriot system, with continued upgrades, will likely remain in production until the 2040s, though it badly needs a mobile replacement for various reasons such as attack by swarms of cheap UAVs, plus that the precise location of Patriot radars can be easily determined from orbit. Demand for Patriot missiles in Ukraine means that nearly all the older Patriot missiles are being used and the m anufacturer is working overtime to produce more missiles.

Each Patriot battery is manned by about a hundred troops and contains a radar plus four or more launchers. The launcher is designed to use both the smaller PAC 3 missile as well as the original and larger PAC 2 anti-aircraft version. A Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles versus four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton while a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that. The PAC 3 has a shorter range that was originally 20 kilometers, but the latest version can do 35 kilometers. The larger PAC-2 can reach 160 kilometers.

Currently Patriot air defense systems are found worldwide. For example, there are 60 Patriot batteries in service in the United States. A Patriot battery includes only one fire unit (up to 8 launchers, one radar, one command post, communication, and support vehicles.

NATO members are heavy users of Patriot systems. Germany has about 10 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; The Netherlands has less than 3 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; Sweden is in the process of receiving up to 4, and currently has up to 2 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; Romania has up to 7, currently up to 4 more Patriot PAC-3 batteries are in the process of being received; Poland has 2 Patriot batteries, plans for up to 12 PAC-3 batteries; Greece has 6 Patriot PAC-2 batteries; Spain has 3 Patriot PAC-2 batteries. Japan has 24 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; South Korea has 8 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; Kuwait has 7-8 batteries (possibly 6 more in PAC-2); Qatar has 4-6 Patriot PAC-3 batteries; Saudi Arabia has 25 batteries (PAC-2 and PAC-3 together); UAE has 6-9 Patriot PAC-3 batteries, 2 more PAC-2 batteries; Israel has 4 Patriot PAC-2 batteries.

Ukraine has asked for Patriot batteries European countries sought to locate and send as many Patriot batteries as they could to Ukraine. Germany organized this effort. As of March 2024, eight Patriot batteries have arrived in Ukraine. The Ukrainians want 25 Patriot batteries and over a thousand Patriot missiles to defend military and civilian targets from Russian missile attacks. The Patriot batteries already in Ukraine have made it impossible for Russia to use their jet fighter-bombers inside Ukraine. Russia does use these aircraft from inside Russia, near the Ukrainian border, to launch glide bombs at targets inside Ukraine. These GPS guided bombs can be intercepted by a Patriot system that is within about 150 kilometers of the target.




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