Air Defense: Greek Patriots Head To Saudi Arabia


May 14, 2021: In April 2021 Greece signed an agreement to send one of its six Patriot Air Defense batteries to Saudi Arabia. Forty Greek troops with Patriot experience will accompany the Greek battery and the Saudis will supply the rest of the hundred troops required to operate the battery. The Saudis requested the Patriot battery in 2019 and Greece initially agreed, but delayed sending the Patriot battery because their eastern neighbor, Turkey, suddenly became more of a threat. In early 2020 Turkey claimed control of waters off the Greek coast that international agreements recognize as Greek and may contain large natural gas deposits. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members but no other NATO states sided with Turkey. This is not the first time Turkey and Greece have had territorial disputes but it is the first time the Turks invaded a North African country in order to establish a false claim.

Turkey triggered this crisis by sending troops and military aid to Libya in order to get one of the two governments there, the GNA, to sign an agreement that claims all the offshore waters between Libya and Turkey, including offshore waters that had long been recognized as Greek. Turkey is also in Libya illegally as UN embargoes prohibit unauthorized foreign intervention.

The Greeks, who currently import all their petroleum, realized they could use improved relations with Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of oil in the world in their dispute with the Turks. Finding and developing offshore natural gas deposits is crucial for Greece and gaining a Persian Gulf ally, especially one that is already hostile to Turkey, justified sending the battery despite the new Turkish threat. Meanwhile the United States agreed to provide four Sentinel radar systems, that can detect low flying cruise missiles and UAVs, for Saudi Arabia.

Greece now hopes to develop a long-term alliance with other Persian Gulf against Iran and Turkey, which has cooperated with Iranian forces in Syria. The Turks are risking expulsion from NATO for their hostile acts towards Greece and cooperation with Russia and Iran. Greece already works closely with Israel, which has also established diplomatic, economic relationships with Persian Gulf Arabs. Earlier Greek cooperation with Israel was meant to provide more protection against Turkey, which long had diplomatic and economic relationships with Israel. This began to fall apart when an Islamic party gained control of parliament and put an anti-Israel leader in power. That situation has not worked out as Turkish voters expected and now the Islamic government is in danger of being voted out. For the moment the Islamic government still rules in Turkey.

While the Saudis already have 24 Patriot batteries, this proved insufficient to protect it from the growing number of Iranian threatened and actual attacks. Greece has been using Patriot since 2003, about as long as the Saudis. Most of the Saudi batteries are deployed in the south, along the Yemen border where Iran-backed Shia rebels have been using Iranian ballistic and cruise missiles against the Saudis for several years. The Patriot systems have been successful in intercepting over a hundred of these attacks. Many other nations in the region also use Patriot, including Egypt, Israel and most Arab Persian Gulf nations. Patriot batteries have been used in the Persian Gulf since 1991 and have had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate they work, especially against ballistic missiles.

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 had a tendency 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 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 $3 million dollar missile 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 use 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 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 crew with combat experience and that has helped attract capable recruits to air-defense, which is usually seen as less prestigious than traditional service with ground, air and naval combat units.

Since 1970 over 10,000 Patriot missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service, some were updated while others were scraped. 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.

Each Patriot battery is manned by about a hundred troops and contains a radar, plus four 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, 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 out 160 kilometers. Saudi Patriot batteries use both PAC 2 and 3 missiles but only began receiving PAC 3 missiles in 2018.

Arab Gulf states want Patriot for additional protection from Iran, which is the main threat and has been for centuries. Over the last few years, Iranian politicians have increasingly made public statements that the Saudis are unfit to be the guardians and operators of the most sacred Moslem shrines at Mecca. Iran also considers Bahrain the 14th province of Iran. That's because, well, it isn't called the "Persian" Gulf for nothing. Since all the oil money showed up after World War II the Arabs have been trying to popularize the term "Arabian Gulf," with mixed success. Many Arab Gulf state have had Iranian minorities for centuries. Since nearly all Iranians are Shia Moslem, those living on the Arab side of the Gulf have attracted many Arabs to the Shia form of Islam. As a result, Bahrain has a Shia Arab majority, and Iran had a formal claim on the island until 1969, when the claim was dropped, in order to improve relations with Arab neighbors. All the Arab states bordering the  Gulf  have Shia minorities, except Iraq and .Bahrain which have Shia majorities, 

The Saudis received another 200 PAC 3 missiles in 2020 to replace Patriot missiles used since 2016 to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles fired from northern Yemen. Iran has backed the Shia rebels there for nearly a decade. To deal with this threat most Saudi Patriot batteries have been moved to defend against the missiles fired from Yemen. Suddenly, in September 2019, the threat appeared in the north when Iran launched an attack on Saudi oil facilities using cruise missiles and UAVs equipped with explosives. These came in low and slow and evaded Saudi air defense radars. The Iranians said the attack came from the Shia rebels in Yemen but the evidence, including fragments of the cruise missiles and UAVs, said otherwise. Saudi Arabia is trying to protect itself from more Iranian attacks using any kind of aerial weapon.

In 2019 Saudi neighbor Bahrain became the 17th nation to purchase Patriot Air Defense systems. Bahrain spent $2.5 billion to obtain two Patriot batteries and 96 missiles. The purchase price includes training, tech support and assistance in hiring qualified foreign contractors to help with maintaining and operating Patriot. There are plenty of Arabs in the Persian Gulf who do that now. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates have been using Patriot for years and most of these Patriot batteries are operated and maintained by Arabs. The Greek soldiers coming with the Greek Patriot battery expect to learn something from Saudi crewmen with lots of Patriot combat experience.




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