Air Defense: Patriots Replace Hawks In Sweden

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June 27, 2018: Sweden, one of the European nations that never joined NATO before or after the Cold War ended, is buying an American made Patriot air defense missile battery and a supply of missiles from the manufacturer for about a billion dollars. This purchase will come with options to buy additional missiles and batteries that would bring the purchase to over $3 billion. This is to provide more protection from potential Russian aggression, especially ballistic missiles and bombers.

For decades Sweden had been using the older American Hawk system and was in the midst of upgrading Hawk when it was realized that even a much-improved Hawk could not deal with all the new weapons Russia was developing. While Hawk has been upgraded continuously since it entered service in 1959, some countries have gone beyond that but even in those cases, like South Korea, it was found that there was only so much you could do with Hawk. The experience with users who have gone from Hawk to Patriot was that upgrades for both systems were continuous, affordable and effective.

The decision to procure Patriot hinged on several key factors. Longer range was needed (Hawk was only good for 40 kilometers). Against aircraft, Patriot can hit targets 160 kilometers distant. Sweden also wants a system with proven ability to stop ballistic missiles. Patriot has been doing that regularly and with increasing effectiveness since the 1990s. Finally, Sweden wanted a system that would receive constant updates for enemy countermeasures. The United States has proved capable of doing this during the Cold War and even though Sweden was neutral the Americans kept the Swedish Hawks (known as RB-97) up to date against the Russian threat. That threat was supposed to have disappeared in the 1990s but now the threat is back. The most visible aspect of this is the revival of Russian military aircraft violating Swedish airspace as they did during the Cold War. Russia conducted simulated air attacks on Sweden in March 2013 and continue to use aging Swedish air defenses for practice. The Patriot manufacturer was able to provide data from other users facing Russian aircraft that demonstrated how superior Patriot was over improved Hawk systems.

The cost of replacing Hawk batteries with Patriot will be over a billion dollars and deliveries could begin in 2020 and be completed by 2025. While the Swedes were keen to get anti-missile capability they will also use Patriot against manned and unmanned aircraft. Thus Swedish Patriot batteries will be equipped with longer range GEM-T missiles for aircraft and shorter range PAC-3 MSE ones for missiles. Sweden has not decided on exactly which search and fire control radars to get and those details are expected to be worked out by the end of the year.

Patriot has been in service since the 1980s and there are a lot of options for search radars Patriot has used and are still available. What it comes down to is ordering the radar that most operators use or one of the new ones with 360-degree coverage. The second gray area is how the new Patriot will be integrated with the current Swedish Air Defense System. If Sweden wants Patriot quickly they would need to select systems already available rather than more capable ones still under development.

Patriot has been in service since 1984 and experienced its first sustained combat in 1990 when it was used against Iraqi ballistic missiles (SCUD) fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its success rate was mediocre at best achieving around 40 to 70 percent but that was largely due to the modifications Iraqis made to their SCUDs to extend their range. As a result, the SCUDs had a tendency to fall apart during last terminal flight phase which created unintended countermeasures. Some of the bigger pieces of debris like additional fuel tank were seen by Patriot radar as actual missile warhead section. In some cases, non-warhead portions of the SCUD came down at a fatal velocity and these debris caused casualties. The other targets Patriot has been used against are UAV but firing a $3 million dollar missile at Hezbollah homemade UAVs, as Israeli forces did a few times isn’t healthy for the economy so Israel developed a cheaper solution for UAVs. Sweden not as concerned about Russian UAVs. For manned aircraft, the Patriot took down its first one in 2014 when an Israeli Patriot shot down a Syrian Su-24. While Patriot was originally designed for use against aircraft, most of what it has shot down has been ballistic missiles, either SCUDs or more recent Iranian designs.

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 if available (for example PAC 2 GEM-T and PAC-3 MSE). The first one is older and cheaper designed for manned aircraft (range up to 160 kilometers) while the second is the newest and about twice more expensive (about $4 million). The PAC-3 specializes in anti-ballistic missile operations and has about 35 kilometers range against missiles or aircraft. The $4 million PAC 3 missile is smaller than the cheaper anti-aircraft version (PAC 2), thus a Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles or four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton, a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that.

The Patriot system (with upgrades) will likely remain in production until 2040-2050. Since 1960 over 10,000 missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service, some were reused and remote to new variants while others were scraped.

 


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