Patriot - An Anti-Missile Missile

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Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI writes about RATHEON'S PATRIOT anti-missile missile

There is an interesting profile of Ratheon's 'Patriot' anti-missile missile in DJ Jan. 99 issue. I have made some in-depth study in this much trumpeted equipment and have a feeling that the efficiency of Patriot in the Gulf War 1991 has been overplayed notwithstanding President Bush's 'in situ' appreciation of its nearly cent per cent hit percentage. This I suppose was good promotional gesture and the rich 'off the shelf' buyers of Middle East Arab Countries straight away acquired a fair number of batteries of Patriot. Even Japan, fearful of North Korean missile Taepo Dong, has acquired the patriot batteries recently from US (though gratis).

Patriot essentially is a weapon to be used against fast and high flying aircraft and it was by accident (and due to certain 'in situ' Gulf modifications) that it achieved some success against Soviet supplied Scuds used by Iraqis. These Scuds, in any case, were of 1960 origin and their CEP/accuracy was wayward. At the very best, these were area weapons and nothing more.

Anyone who has studied the Gulf War 1991 would know that the Israelis (who were first supplied with Patriot batteries by US) were not really satisfied with its much-trumpeted hit percentage. In fact a US congressional inquest after the war and in which the war diaries of Israeli formations - and other parameters have been analysed in depth has indicated that the performance of Ratheon's Contraption has been over blown. (The American has tried to justify this by saying that the Israelis did not employ US detachments - but used their own troops to man and operate US Patriot batteries).

A study of Prince Khalid's book on Gulf War however, is much less derogative about the performance of Patriots in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (The Saudis did not man the Patriot batteries. This was done by US detachments for them.)

Technically and as a back grounder I have a feeling that so far no real, efficient and reliable anti-missile missile has been built to counter modern state of the art ICBMs. Some of the more important and ingenious recent efforts in this direction were:-

  • SDI - (Strategic Defence Initiative)
  • Alfaw - (An Iraqi effort)
  • Arrow - (A downsized SDI presently a project with Israel, IAI)

SDI was a terribly ambitious programme envisioned by President Reagan - and not withstanding super technological US infrastructure/resources with USA - it could not come to function. SDI needed a large platform in the space from which massive laser energy was required to be generated to incinerate the electrical system of hostile ICBMs in their mid course. It was an ambitious mandate and labelled as scientifically viable, but a Nobel Laureate Hans Bathe and others, rejected this as science fantasy and unworkable. Of course, it was abandoned - though many billion dollars were spent on research which was infructuous.

In 1988 - the Iraqis showed the mockup of a weapon 'Alfaw' which never saw full fruition. 'Arrow' in fact is a down sized and a much less grandiose version of SDI though still financed by USA but this is being fabricated in Israel. As per my information one or two successful tests have been carried out of this anti-missile missile. Its performance appears to be encouraging.

I might make a point here that with the present Indo-Israel military collusion strengthening-it is quite possible that India might acquire 'Arrow' which could jeopardize our missile programmes (we have no such weapons presently in own arsenal for anti-missile role).

Finally the performance of patriot against Soviet Scud. It is now known that Saddam had wanted to engage Al Riyadh and Tel-Aviv, which could only be reached if an additional (booster/motor) was fitted onto the Scud. The Iraqis tried to trade range for accuracy and ballistic finesse and put two boosters to project a single Scud-B Warhead. This modification did achieve the range - but massacred the ballistics parameters of the original Scud. It was simply unscientific and shoddy.

The result was that it did take off well - but in the re-entry phase - it became wobbly - (with its acceleration increasing) and it tore apart in two parts which of course was no handy work of Patriot. In this sense - and for that matter such modifications especially on expensive missile never work and nearly always destroy the ballistic sophistication of the basic weapon.

I am not sure what fresh technology has now been inducted in the Patriot to make it a viable anti-missile missile - as it was never originally designed to be such a weapon.