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Get Patriot Modernization Back on Target | Commentary

Instead of employing an aircraft model, where the system of systems is on board and is supplied by a single mega-contractor, the Army’s Patriot acquisition strategy leveraged foreign sales, multi-year procurement, and component system competitions. In some cases the Patriot elements were competed by the prime contractor (Raytheon) and in other cases were “broken out” and competed by the Army. Congress should note that this last competitive method proved to be particularly well suited to Patriot as reflected in the PAC-3 family of missiles being supplied by Lockheed Martin and in the Integrated Battle Command System being provided by Northrop Grumman.

Mixing major system suppliers can be a challenge, but it can be powerfully effective if the overarching managers are excellent. The Army’s Patriot program team has proved to be a wise investor and effective manager. In concert with the operational community, its vision for Patriot includes continued upgrades to the missile segment, leveraging the latest in digital processors in the radar and weapons control systems, and improvements to the operator stations.

All of these enhance Patriot’s readiness and reliability, mitigate obsolescence, reduce the maintenance and logistic footprint, and improve system performance. Patriot is not standing still and the Army is poised to evolve the system further with new concepts and innovations from industry — including legacy MEADS technology or a real 21st century 360-degree AEGIS-like fixed array radar — that can compete and earn their way onto the battlefield.

The linchpin to success remains funding. Predicable and consistent funding for Patriot modernization is vital to the success of the Army’s strategy for meeting combatant commanders’ needs and executing a program that provides critical capabilities to U.S. and allied forces. Congress should stand resolute in supporting the Army’s program team and fully fund Patriot modernization by restoring the Senate Appropriations cut in the full Senate or in conference.

Retired Air Force Col. Robert Newton is a former test pilot and Pentagon acquisitions officer.

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