Air Defense: Ukraine Receives More Patriot Batteries


May 13,2024: Ukraine currently has three Patriot Air Defense Batteries and one more is about to arrive. Ukraine says it needs 25 batteries to provide protection for all of Ukraine. Patriot has been used in combat before, but never as intensively as in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is a near peer war, where both sides are armed with modern weapons and neither side has an overwhelming advantage. Ukraine expects to get seven more batteries soon and has asked for more Patriot missiles. There are currently nineteen countries using Patriot and these nations have between them over 250 Patriot Batteries. The United States is the largest user, with 90 of those batteries before Russia invaded Ukraine, and that is now closer to 80 because of those sent to Ukraine. The Americans are purchasing more batteries, as are other user nations. American ground forces are based around the world and one or more Patriot batteries are often used for air defense there from local threats. Most of these threats are not aircraft but short-range ballistic missiles. This reveals that Patriot is more a Ballistic Missile Defense, or BMD system, than one that shoots down aircraft. Patriot missiles have intercepted far more missiles that aircraft. 

Suddenly, there is more demand worldwide because Patriot has once more demonstrated its effectiveness in a wartime situation. In Ukrainian cities protected by Patriot, the loud boom off a missile being launched is reassuring for soldiers and civilians.

RTX, the manufacturer of Patriot, has increased Patriot missile production to 500 a year and that will soon reach 550 a year and by 2027 will be 650 missiles a year. Ukraine needs several hundred more missiles right away to replace those used against Russian missile attacks. Ukraine also wants more Patriot batteries so that more territory can be protected. Many of the 19 countries armed with Patriot have older missiles that are approaching their Use By Date. After that date you must refurbish these missiles for them to remain useful. The missiles receive periodic upgrades as the manufacturer develops improvements. There are also upgrades to the radar and fire control system

Now Ukraine and other Patriot users wants more Patriot missiles and support equipment. The United States and European NATO countries are sending all they have. One reason for this urgency and generosity is that Ukraine has developed some new ways to use Patriot missiles more efficiently and effectively. In early 2023 Ukraine received two Patriot batteries plus some additional missiles. Another battery is supposed to arrive by the end of the year. Soon after Ukraine received the first Patriot batteries, they managed to destroy two Russian jet fighters and three helicopters that were carrying out bombing attacks on Ukrainian targets in the north, near the border with Russia’s Bryansk province. This happened so quickly that Russia decided to cease launching airstrikes from bases in this region. The main reason for this was the unexpectedly effective Ukrainian use of their Patriot systems. The Ukrainians had developed some new techniques to do this. For example, Ukrainian Patriot system operators have developed methods for reliably and consistently using Patriot against several different Russian ballistic missile systems. These methods have stopped dozens of Russian ballistic and high-speed cruise missiles sent to attack the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, as well as other targets in Ukraine.

Ukrainians were not the first Patriot users to come up with novel ways to use the system. Patriot has proved to be very configurable and able to deal with many new situations the Patriot System designers never expected. That sort of thing has kept Patriots in service for over three decades.

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 flight phase as they were speeding down towards the target. This 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 three 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 nearly 11,000 Patriot missiles and over 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) with special features to make it better than the PAC 2 at ballistic missile defense. 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 manufacturer 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.

NATO countries are being asked to send Ukraine all the Patriot missiles they can. The NATO countries are also sending their Patriot System experts in order to learn about the novel methods Ukrainians have developed. It did not take long to train Ukrainian crews. Ukraine points out that it will take a lot less time for Ukrainians to master Patriot operation because it is wartime and time is of the essence. That proved to be the case.




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