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Air Defense: Patriot Goes All The Way
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October 11, 2007: The U.S. Army is upgrading all ten of its Patriot anti-aircraft missile battalions so they can fire the PAC 3 anti-missile missiles. The $3.3 million PAC 3 missile (PHOTO) is smaller than the anti-aircraft version (PAC 2), 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 20 kilometers) versus 70 kilometers for the anti-aircraft version. Each Patriot battalion has 12-24 launchers (3-6 batteries).


The upgrade involves new software, upgrades to the Patriot radar system, and new communications systems that allow for launchers to be placed farther from the radar and launch control equipment. While each Patriot launcher, loaded with PAC 3 missiles, can only defend against ballistic missiles approaching within 20 kilometers, the Patriot radar can detect targets out to a hundred kilometers. Two PAC 3 missiles are fired at each incoming ballistic missile, to increase the probability of a hit. The PAC 3 has its own radar, and uses it to track the incoming warhead, and execute a collision course.


The PAC 3 was used for the first time during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Iraqis fired eleven long range 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 of the Patriot missile, modified for use against missiles, was used, and 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 involved installing larger fuel tanks, resulting in longer missiles. This change in the shape and internal strength of the missiles, caused many to come apart as they plunged earthward. That is, the warhead section broke apart from the fuselage. This reduced the accuracy of the missile, but also provided interceptor missiles with two or more incoming targets. 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.


The U.S. Air Force has also configured Patriot PAC 3 anti-missile missiles to be launched from F-15 fighters. This would enable missiles to be in position, over a wider area, to intercept incoming ballistic missiles. An F-15 can move around a lot faster than the towed launchers that normally carry PAC 3 missiles. The PAC 3 fired from the air can also hit cruise missiles, or ballistic missiles that were just launched, and are still climbing. Work is now underway to adapt the 17 foot long PAC 3 to be launched from the F-16, F-22 and F-35 aircraft as well.

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sjdoc    Capacity?   10/11/2007 9:50:43 AM
How many of the PAC 3 missiles can an F-15 presently carry?  If two of these ABM missiles are requred to maximize "kill" probability, I can see a loitering Eagle element running out of bullets pretty quickly if an enemy decides to saturate defenses with a salvo.
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oOOOo    Contingency option   10/11/2007 11:05:06 AM
If  land-based deployed Patriot batteries shoot themselves empty or are otherwise compromised, F15s packing P3s could cover on relatively short notice and until the land battery is replenished/replaced/reconstituted. How much time from detection of swarm launch to re-active F15/P3 sortie launch and F15/P3 on station? How many F15s in the initial sortie? How many/how long until rest of wing is armed fueled and launched? How many P3s were allocated to that wing? What numbers in an enemy salvo? What numbers and what positions giving what coverage from which launch sites to which targets for the land-based P3s? How many replacement P3s in theatre? Follow-on swarm possibilities? How many P3s available out-of-theatre? Nuke/radiological/biological or conventional incoming warheads? Our defensive readiness state? Are we protecting a base, a city, a country, an island?
Just a few variables...
The F15/P3 package could also be used to supplement land-based capabilities. For example, in Gulf I, Saddam was launching his scuds under cover of night if I recall correctly. The F15/P3s could be surged to expand and supplement night-time coverage and to tweak coverage geographically in a more nimble response to evolving intel than would be practical for the trailer/p3 combo. An airbourne platform can also loiter over water and hostile populations more effectively than a trailer. Would an F15 over Jordan or north-western Saudi Arabia have been better positioned to effectively intercept a western Iraqi scud targeting Israel than an Israel-based land battery? Not to mention denying the media the opportunity to film land-based Patriot launches and don gas-masks in dramatic fashion. Plus an air-launched P3, if it packs the same propellent, has got to have more effective range than a P3 than must first climb up the gravity well.
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macawman       10/11/2007 3:52:20 PM
Patriot still holds the record for shooting down more allied aircraft-3 than the enemies-O.   In past conflicts, Army Patriots systems have NOT coordinated with the Air Force on forward area use of these missiles.  The Patriot is supposed to be a strategic rear area defense weapon, the Army has been deploying this weapon as a tactical forward area defense system. 
This indicates a lack of confidence in AF control of forward air space, or that Army Patriot AD Command wants to be Out Front with the Big Boys i.e. Infantry, Armor, and Aviation. 
Placing the patriot missile on the F-15 will likely let the AF control forward air space without the possible conflict with forward area Patriot AD teams.
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sjdoc    How about a ''PAC 3 Bus'' option?   10/15/2007 4:18:34 PM
With B-52, P-3 Orion, and (eventually) the P-8 Poseidon being equipped to carry and effectively employ missiles like the Harpoon (AGM-84) and the SLAM-ER (AGM-84K), it might be useful to add the capacity to load a number of such large, loiter-capable aircraft with numbers of Patriot PAC 3 missiles to function as on-station anti-missile "bastion" platforms as augmentations to ground-based Patriot batteries.
Running "racetrack" courses in areas where additional ABM defenses might be required, these kinds of planes would have greater weapons payload and better aircrew fatigue tolerance than would F-15's while at the same time being more rapidly deployable than the Army's Patriot battalions.
I keep mindful of the C-130 pilot who boasted to an escorting Eagle driver that "I can do things in this trash hauler you could never do in that scooter of yours."
"Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah.  Just watch."
The C-130 pilot went off the air for five minutes, then came back on the radio.  "See?"
"See what?" asked the fighter pilot.
"I just got up, went aft to use the can, and came back with a cup of coffee.  Let's see you do that."
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