The Great Debate » patriot missiles Tue, 25 Oct 2016 20:07:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 NATO allies must work closely together, but do their missile defense systems? Thu, 02 Oct 2014 03:35:49 +0000 Patriot_missile_launch_b 

Since few nations can go it alone militarily, alliances are now crucial for ensuring security. To mount a common defense, allies need weapon systems that can operate together. In military parlance, the ability to work with other systems and  share data with them as if they were one system is known as “interoperability.”

Poland and Turkey, both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are shopping for an air- and missile-defense system, and interoperability should be front and center in their impending procurement decisions (7.5B Euro and 2.9B Euro, respectively).

eurosam_1.1-eurosam-approach-to-air-defence_2012-12-27Consider the case of Turkey. A year ago, Turkey announced that a Chinese company would build its system. But NATO and U.S. officials opposed the deal, contending that the Chinese-built system could not be integrated with the existing air-defense assets of NATO.

If Turkey defied the alliance and choose the Chinese system anyway, its ability to contribute to a combined NATO defense would be severely compromised. (Another complicating factor was that the Chinese company is under U.S. sanctions for doing business with Iran, North Korea and Syria.)

Turkey has since backed off the deal and is now considering the runner-up in its bidding process, Eurosam, which builds the new SAMP/T system now being fielded in France and Italy. The other major contender is Raytheon’s Patriot, a combat-proven system owned by 12 nations and the backbone of NATO’s air- and missile-defense capability for decades.

Each system has strengths. SAMP/T has a 360-degree capability and, in test runs, has successfully intercepted SCUD-B ballistic-missile targets. Patriot is now developing a 360 capability and has taken out SCUD-Bs in combat and hit more challenging ballistic missiles as well. It also has two hit-to-kill interceptors in its family of missiles (necessary for threats more advanced than a SCUD-B), while SAMP/T is developing one.

Putting those differences aside, however, the key is again which system offers the most interoperability with NATO’s current assets?

eurosamFor SAMP/T, tactical interoperability is largely an unknown. It successfully transmitted data to a NATO air-operations center in its latest test, but its interoperability with the alliance’s Patriot, HAWK air defense system, the U.S. Navy’s AEGIS (now in use in the Mediterranean) or AEGIS Ashore (planned for Romania and Poland) is still unclear.

Interoperability is far more than the ability to send data to an air operations center. So there are tough questions still to be answered. Among them:

Can SAMP/T operate with other NATO systems to form an integrated defense? Or is it merely compatible, meaning it does not interfere or undermine other systems and so must operate as a stand-alone weapon? Can it share targets and send engagement orders directly to other NATO systems? Can it execute simultaneous engagements in a congested battle area?

When France and Italy receive their full SAMP/T complement, the system’s global inventory will be approximately 16 units, compared with more than 200 Patriot batteries in the global inventory (37 in Europe). SAMP/T’s small inventory has to be a concern. How robust can its logistical systems and training and support base be? Quantity can often ensure quality in sustaining a system.

By contrast, NATO’s Patriot logistics system is seasoned and has proven reliable. NATO’s forces rely on it today and its common training and support base is solid.

Considering interoperability from a training and logistics standpoint, it is curious that Turkey and Poland are even considering a system that could complicate weapons integration and undercut the benefits of shared repair parts, ammunition and training.

A Patriot PAC-3 missile, a Patriot PAC-2 missile and a Hawk missile are seen on display outside the airbase de Peel in VredepeelIn choosing between the two systems, there are some other points to look at as well. SAMP/T is based on a naval system and has conducted a total of 13 successful intercepts. Patriot, meanwhile, was developed as NATO’s ground-based air-defense system and has racked up more than 1,000 missile flight tests. It was evolving into a missile-defense system when it deployed to Desert Storm in 1991. Its battle performance became a point of debate, but the weapon system successfully engaged short- and medium-range SCUDs, and it has continued to improve.

By 2003, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Patriot units teamed with Kuwaiti Patriot units in an integrated defense that compiled a 9-for-9 record against Iraq’s ballistic missiles. In 2012, as part of an integrated defense test and in a congested battle area, the Patriot system intercepted a short-range ballistic missile and a cruise missile in a near-simultaneous engagement.

Given an increasingly bellicose Russia and the building unrest in the Middle East, delivery time is critical now. Because France and Italy are still receiving their SAMP/T systems, any new buyer’s deliveries would have to come after them.  Germany, meanwhile, is reorganizing its military and has 12 Patriot units available to sell. Patriot is still in production if this 12 is not enough for NATO allies.

As Poland and Turkey decide which system to buy, they need to consider each system’s interoperability and performance record — which ultimately affect total costs.

The Patriot system offers by far the most mature and comprehensive solution, but let’s see what the two NATO members decide.


PHOTO (TOP): Four Patriot missiles can be fired from the highly mobile transporter erector launch. WIKIPEDIA/Commons

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Eurosam missile. Courtesy of Eurosam site.

PHOTO (INSERT 2): The Aster 30 SAMP/T is on order for the French Army and Air Force and for the Italian Army.  Courtesy

PHOTO (INSERT 3): A Patriot PAC-3 missile (R), a Patriot PAC-2 missile and a Hawk missile (L) are seen on display outside the airbase de Peel in Vredepeel, Netherlands, January 7, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Kooren



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