At the AUSA Winter Symposium in February, Major General Thomas Spoehr, the Army’s director of program analysis and evaluation, noted that the Army’s current weapon systems are essentially the same systems it used to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the Army does not have a new fleet of equipment to sustain it over the long haul or for new missions.
The 40-year-old Patriot air and missile defense system is just such a system. Designed during the Cold War and in the field for 30 years, the venerable system reflects defensive needs of the era that has passed. It is adequate for the current NATO mission to defend Turkey because the ballistic missile threat is well defined and located in front of Patriot’s sectored radars and directional launchers. The Turkish scenario also provided the luxury of time, allowing two months for two Patriot batteries to be shipped by sea before becoming operational. This gift of time is not likely in future conflict scenarios that include the realities of crisis deployment, forced entry, airlift constraints, an evolving asymmetric cruise missile threat, and Americans in harm’s way.
The recently published Army 2012 Air and Missile Defense Strategy describes the capabilities our forces must have now, not 25 years from now. The air and missile defense force must be agile, capable, affordable and flexible enough to execute operations as part of joint and coalition forces.
Needed capabilities include a networked open architecture and 360-degree surveillance and fire control. These are features that Patriot does not have today and will likely never have despite continuing investment and years of development. I remain perplexed why our nation would not instead reap the benefits of the Medium Extended Air Defense System, whose capabilities and cost of operation are exactly what is called for in the 2012 AMD Strategy.
Ten years ago, Army leadership published a report listing shortcomings of the Patriot system after the conflict in Iraq. The heavy system took six months to fully deploy in numerous naval shipments. It could not be easily repositioned when ground forces moved.
The sectored system could not defend against non-ballistic threats outside of its narrowly defined search sectors. Despite billions of dollars spent to improve Patriot in the past decade, the Army still doesn’t have a system that meets the requirements it defined after the Iraq War.
The technological shortcomings defined after the Iraq War exist today but have been successfully answered in an unprecedented intercept test at White Sands Missile Range in the fall of 2012. The 360-degree MEADS system destroyed an air-breathing threat attacking the tactical site from behind — an impossible feat with the Patriot Missile System.