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Patriot TMD

Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2)

Iraq's arsenal of tactical ballistic missiles posed an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia and other surrounding Middle Eastern countries. After the decision to deploy PATRIOT to SWA had been made, it became apparent that the new PAC 2 version of the PATRIOT was needed to counter the Iraqi threat. Although it was not scheduled to begin production until 1991, the PATRIOT Project Office issued orders to accelerate production schedules of the PAC 2 missile shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, a decision that put the office `out on a limb' with Pentagon officials, but got the missile defense system to the Middle East in time to shoot down Scud missiles."

With the receipt of formal approval on 6 August 1990, PAC 2 production was accelerated to the point that by the following month missiles were rolling off the production line and being air transported directly to troops in SWA. The acceleration task involved the coordinated efforts of U.S. Government agencies as well as contractors in Massachusetts, Florida, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Arkansas, Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Germany. When the first deployment alerts were issued in August 1990, only three pre-production PAC II missiles were ready, and they were on the WSMR for testing. Some of the parts had not even begun production in the US. By the time the air campaign commenced on 17 January 1991, 460 PAC 2 missiles were in the hands of troops in SWA.

At the heart of Patriot operations is the software which controls the radar, missiles, communications and other critical functions. This massive integration of computer code required urgent tailoring to optimize Patriot performance to the threat and conditions of the Mideast. In addition to the accelerated delivery of PAC 2 missiles, the PATRIOT Project Office also worked non-stop to coordinate the activities necessary to upgrade the system's software to allow it to function effectively in key ODS performance areas. Normally, months of testing and processing are required before new software is released. In the first seven weeks alone, the project office approved six releases of new software. Ongoing improvements to this part of the PATRIOT system were developed under time constraints measured in days, not months. It was just this sort of software fix (which was in the process of being applied to the PATRIOT batteries in SWA) that would have helped to prevent the fatal Scud attack on the US barracks in Dhahran.

The first PATRIOT unit to deploy to Saudi Arabia--Battery B, 2d Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, 11th ADA Brigade--arrived in country on 13 August 1990. Less than 5 months later, at 0448 on 18 January 1991, Battery A, 2d Battalion, 7th ADA, 11th ADA Brigade "...shot down the first tactical ballistic missile in Saudi Arabia. It was the first combat kill for Patriot." Not only was "this the first time a Patriot [had] been fired in anger,...it [was] the very first time one missile in combat [had] engaged and killed another missile." During the 6-week Gulf War campaign, 158 PATRIOT missiles were launched to intercept Iraqi Scud missiles.

Initially, Army sources claimed an interception success rate of 95 percent for both Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Army has subsequently revised this figure downward to a 70 percent success rate for Saudi Arabia and a 40 percent rate for Israel. Because of the system's high visibility and the numerous accolades which it received throughout ODS and afterwards, the PATRIOT has become the most highly criticized of all the weapon systems used in SWA. A special report released by the Center for International and Security Policy Studies not long after the cessation of hostilities stated that although the PATRIOT "...demonstrated, for the first time in combat, that it is possible 'to hit a bullet with a bullet,' ...the interceptions also demonstrated the limits of the Patriot, even against a primitive ballistic missile such as the SCUD. Patriots hit the Iraqi missiles at too low an altitude and with insufficient power." This special report went on to argue in favor of the continued development of the U.S.-funded, Israeli-designed and developed ARROW, "a true ATBM [antitactical ballistic missile]...."

Almost a year after Operation Desert Storm, critics of the missile claimed that "...the Patriot success story, a `Massachusetts miracle,' is sadly not based on supportable fact." According to a recent article in The Boston Globe, "...[There] is mounting evidence that the missile, the supposed high-tech hero of the Persian Gulf War, failed repeatedly and may not have succeeded even once--and that the Army and Raytheon have been trying to discount that evidence."

Critics of the PATRIOT argued that the system could not prevent the deaths, injuries and considerable damage suffered by Israel from debris and warheads which were knocked off course but not destroyed by the interceptions. Perhaps the most damning, certainly the most emotionally charged, failure attributed to the system occurred on 26 February 1991 when the warhead and other debris from a Scud which broke apart in flight slammed into a metal warehouse in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The building had been converted into a barracks and mess hall for U.S. soldiers, 28 of whom died and 97 wounded as a result of the attack. This single event inflicted more casualties on American soldiers than 2 days of fighting during the ground war. Although located in an area where two batteries were set up, no PATRIOT missiles were ever fired at the incoming Scud. No PATRIOT missiles were fired to intercept those SCUD missiles determined to be harmless, i.e., headed for the ocean or unpopulated desert areas.

In the days and weeks immediately following this tragic incident, U.S. officials searched for the reasons why the PATRIOT system was not employed to protect America's own. Preliminary analyses blamed a breakdown in the U.S. intelligence warning system which failed to detect the Scud's launch from southern Iraq. Heavy cloud cover and the breakup of the missile were the reasons cited for the failure. Later, a combination of bad weather, smoke and burning oil fields in Kuwait were singled out as the main factors contributing to the electronic confusion which prevented the launching of PATRIOT interceptors. In March 1991, Army officials revealed that one of the two PATRIOT batteries situated near the destroyed barracks was not operational during the fatal attack because it was undergoing periodic maintenance. Two months later, newspaper accounts reported that Army investigators had ascertained that the second battery's failure to detect the incoming Scud was the result of multiple computer problems, including four days of continuous operation. Actually, the investigators had known within 3 days of the tragedy that a technical problem was at the root of the PATRIOT system's nonperformance, but it took several more weeks to pin point the precise software glitch responsible for the malfunction. In February 1992, a General Accounting Office (GAO) report confirmed that "...the failure could have been averted... if U.S. Army operators had received instructions to reset the system every few hours." The GAO findings supported "...an earlier Army conclusion that a communications snafu, rather than an inherent flaw in the Patriot system, was the main cause of the disaster...."

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Page last modified: 21-07-2011 00:48:08 ZULU