The Israeli Experience Operating Patriot in the Gulf War

Statement of Reuven Pedatzur
Ha'aretz Daily
Tel Aviv, Israel

Committee on Government Operations
U.S. House of Representatives
April 7, 1992

Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify here on the operation of the Patriot missile batteries in Israel, in a defensive mission against Iraqi al-Hussein missiles which were fired at targets in the Israeli rear.

I am a fighter-pilot in the Israel Air Force reserves, with 22 years flying experience. I am also about to complete my doctorate in the Political Science department of Tel Aviv University. My academic work is bound up with research in the defense and security realm. I have also lectured at the Israel Defense Forces' Command and Staff College. In addition, I am a defense affairs analyst for the Ha'aretz daily paper and I also work as research fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

In my capacity as a defense affairs analyst for the Ha'aretz daily paper, I have intensively covered Israeli national-security issues for many years. In my work as a research fellow at the Jaffee Center I have recently completed a comprehensive study on Israel's Arrow missile project -- an active defense system against theater ballistic missiles, which Israel is developing as part of the SDI program. One chapter of the study -- which will be published in the near future -- is devoted to the lessons of the Gulf War and the performance of the Patriot missile batteries.

The Patriot missile underwent its initial test under battle conditions in the Gulf War. There are important lessons that can and should be drawn from this first-ever operational experience involving active defense against ballistic missiles. Even though the Patriot failed against the Iraqi al-Husseins, it may retain a potential to defend against ballistic missiles in future conflicts. Only by examining the historical experience with Patriot can we hope to learn lessons needed to improve its performance. These lessons are also important because they contribute much to public understanding of ballistic missile defense activities -- a subject which has assumed cardinal importance in both Israel and the United States since the end of the Gulf War. A key to this understanding is the history of how the Patriot batteries were operated in Israel.

During the war a team of Israeli experts, with the participation of representatives from Raytheon and from the U.S. Army, undertook a comprehensive study of the Patriot's intercept attempts. As a result, the experts were able, in the course of the war itself, to track the precise flight path of the al-Hussein missiles, and to discover their disintegration process and their warheads' tumbling motion. In addition, it was possible to identify those features of the Patriot system which hampered its attempts to intercept the al-Husseins, such as an inability to distinguish between warhead and debris, and the ineffectiveness of its fuse at the high closing speeds which developed between the al-Husseins and the Patriots.

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The Israeli team of experts included personnel from the Israel Air Force (IAF), from the leading military industries such as Rafael-- the armaments development authority -- from Israel Aircraft Industries, and representatives from the Defense Ministry. The IAF was responsible for the team's work. According to Israeli law and procedure, the identities of the team's members may not be made public because they are part of the army or the defense establishment (Rafael is an integral part of the Defense Ministry, while Israel Aircraft Industries is a government corporation whose employees may not give interviews or make public statements without Defense Ministry authorization).

This testimony reflects the conclusions of the Israeli professional echelon on the operation of the Patriot batteries, as I have researched it in the period since the Gulf War. My study is based on interviews and discussions with members of the Israeli team of experts mentioned above, and on an examination of the whole subject of defense against ballistic missiles.

In addition to the interviews with the team of experts, the study is based on interviews with IDF senior officers from the air force, the air defense forces and the General Staff. Their identities, too, may not be made public. Another source was the analysis by the team of experts in Israel of video recordings of attempts by the Patriot to intercept Iraqi missiles.

Before proceeding, I must point out that this testimony and its conclusions should not be construed as representing an official Israeli position of any kind. In no way does this paper represent the official stand of the Israel Defense Forces or the Israeli Defense Ministry; it represents only the findings of my own research and analysis. The official bodies I have mentioned were not behind my decision to study the subject; on the contrary, they placed various obstacles on my path.

Supporting evidence of cardinal importance from a source that can be named was provided by Major General Avihu Ben-Nun, who recently retired after a five-year stint as commander of the air force. During the Gulf War, Ben-Nun was directly responsible for Israel's air defenses. The operation of the Patriot batteries in Israel was under his direct command, and he made the decisions on their modes of operation, their deployment and their personnel. Particular importance attaches to what Gen. Ben-Nun stated for quotation and attribution, not only to me but also to the Boston Globe as reported on March 19, 1992.

Although Ben-Nun's testimony does not constitute the official Israeli position on the Patriots' performance, the fact that he was the direct commander of the missile batteries in Israel during the war and the ranking decision-maker on their utilization in the IDF means that his comments carry great weight.

Gen. Ben-Nun asserts that only one al-Hussein warhead was evidently hit by Patriot missiles. The data on two others are not clear -- they may have been partially damaged. No other warheads were hit by Patriots.

Gen. Ben-Nun states that in any event the success ratio was extremely low. He believes that the reports about the Patriot's success during the war -- while the originators of those reports knew them to be incorrect -- should be viewed within the realm of psychological warfare.

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A very senior source in the Israeli Defense Ministry told Ha'aretz that Patriot missiles had hit one al-Hussein warhead, two at the most (Ha'aretz, January 22, 1992).

Let me begin with some background information. The Patriot batteries were rushed to Israel in great haste as a result of the adversity faced by the policy- makers in Jerusalem. Taken largely by surprise by the Iraqi attacks, they urgently sought help to counter the ballistic-missile threat. Indeed, they were so hard-pressed that they violated a basic principle of Israeli defense doctrine in agreeing to allow foreign troops to be stationed on Israeli soil and assist in the country's defense.

Of the first four Patriot batteries that arrived, two were staffed by Israeli crews, while the other two were staffed by U.S. Army personnel but were under IAF operational command. Subsequently, another two batteries arrived, also staffed by U.S. personnel under the command of Israeli officers. Following the missile attacks on Israel in the war's first days, it was decided to deploy four batteries in the Metropolitan Tel Aviv area and two in the Haifa region. Later a battery also arrived from Holland, but it did not take an active part in the attempts to intercept the al-Husseins.

At first, the Patriots in Israel were operated according to U.S. Army doctrine, using the "automatic" mode. This calls for two Patriots to be launched against an attacking missile in every case. The first Patriot is meant to intercept the incoming missile at an altitude of 12 km (7.2 miles). The second, launched 3.5 seconds after the first, is supposed to intercept the incoming missile -- if the first has not already destroyed it -- at an altitude of between 4 and 6 km (2.4 to 3.6 miles).

The Patriot's radar picks up the incoming missile at a distance of about 90 km (54 miles). It identifies the missile's trajectory and classifies it as a tactical ballistic missile (TBM) target. The radar then "locks" on the target and prepares to launch the first Patriot. All this occurs automatically, without the intervention of a man in the loop.

During the first days in which the Patriots were operated in Israel, the batteries reported "hits" against the al-Hussein warheads. But in fact the Iraqi missiles were not hit, continued on their route and exploded upon ground impact. Obviously, the reports emanating from the Patriot batteries were at variance with reality.

Since the missiles came down in the heart of residential areas, the explosion of their warheads were quite visible. Special squads, equipped with optical viewing instruments, were stationed at high points to monitor missile flight paths until warheads impacted on the ground. Because of these coordinated activities, the IDF teams were able to analyze missile impacts shortly after they occurred, and it was easy for them to clearly distinguish between damage caused by warheads and damage caused by falling pieces of debris.

The air force set up a special team of experts to coordinate activity regarding the Patriot, draw real-time lessons from the intercept attempts, and propose changes or improvements in the operation of the batteries, or come up with findings to enable such changes.

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The Israeli team -- which, as already mentioned, was augmented by representatives from Raytheon and the U.S. Army -- found that it was impossible to get a true indication of whether or not the incoming missile had been destroyed. The reports of successful hits received from the Patriot batteries were found to derive only from the fact that the Patriot warheads were activated precisely where and when intended. The batteries possessed no additional sources of data to enable a detailed analysis of the intercept attempts.

The Israeli team's first step was to install video cameras in the two Israeli- staffed batteries, in order to film the radar screen during the intercept and monitor the operators. Subsequently, cameras were also installed in the U.S.-staffed batteries. The video recordings later enabled decisions to be made regarding changes in the batteries' mode of operation.

The Israeli air force experts who analyzed the video recordings concluded that a proficient operator could achieve good results by working in the manual mode. Their assessment was that the man in the loop could execute a reasoned action and make decisions in real time, something that was not feasible in the automatic mode.

Members of the team, which met every day to analyze the previous night's intercept attempts, began to hypothesize on why the al-Hussein's warhead was not being destroyed, even though the batteries reported a "hit." One conjecture was that the incoming missile might be breaking up as it reentered the atmosphere, so that the Patriot's radar "saw" more than one target, designated them all as TBMs and was unable to distinguish the debris from the warhead.

At the same time, it was decided to place cameras in various locales in Metropolitan Tel Aviv to monitor what happened during the intercept itself. Both infrared and optical cameras were used. Some of the cameras were taken from Rafael's experimental fields (Rafael Bulletin, No. 17, February 1992, p. 9). In all, about 10 cameras were used.

At the meeting of the team of experts held on January 24, 1991, it was suggested that the launch order for the first Patriot be given slightly earlier. In this way the incoming missile would be intercepted at a higher altitude, perhaps before the disintegration process began (at that time there were no accurate data on the altitude at which the al-Hussein began to break up, or on the disintegration process itself).

It was in the aftermath of the night of January 25, 1991 that the decision was made to change the Patriots' mode of operation. Seven al-Hussein missiles were fired at Israel that night -- six at Metropolitan Tel Aviv and one at Haifa. When the missiles broke up, the Patriot batteries, radar identified each of them as three or four separate targets. Patriot missiles were fired at a good many of these "targets," and in fact no fewer than 27 Patriots were launched that night against the seven al-Husseins. Not a single al-Hussein warhead was hit. Worse, Patriot missiles hit the ground and caused property damage.

All told, four Patriot missiles struck the ground in Israel during the war. It turned out that in those missiles the "safe and arm" mechanism, which is responsible for self-destruct, was defective. The path of these missiles is clearly visible in ABC-TV video recordings. Following the discovery of this problem it was decided to not allow the Patriot batteries to give a launch order that would lead to an intercept at low altitudes.

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After the night of January 25 it became clear to the Israeli experts that the Patriot system was unable to distinguish between an attacking missile's warhead and missile fragments, some of which it designated as TBM targets.

In an attempt to solve the problem, the manual mode of operation was adopted. To understand why the manual mode of operation was thought to be better than the automatic mode, it is useful to understand certain differences between them. When the system operates in automatic mode, it both searches for al-Hussein targets and automatically engages those targets it detects. When the al-Husseins disintegrated, the system automatically treated some missile fragments as al-Hussein targets, and initiated engagements against them. When the system is operated in the manual mode, it still automatically manages the launch and guidance of interceptors against targets, but it does not select the target automatically -- and, of course, it does not select more targets automatically. So by operating the system in manual mode the Israelis could conserve interceptors and also take advantage of those automatic features of the system that were essential for engaging al-Husseins.

The operations during an engagement were fairly straightforward. The system was kept in the manual mode, and when an al-Hussein was detected at roughly 90 kilometers range, well above the altitude of al-Hussein breakup, the operator would manually lock the system onto the target. Once this was accomplished, the system would automatically choose the launch time and trajectory of the Patriots. When he al-Husseins disintegrated, the warhead followed a trajectory that was initially very similar to that of the intact missile and unlike that of the rapidly decelerating fragments. As a result, the system did not lock onto any of the trailing fragments and the engagement would proceed uninterrupted.

However, the manual mode also failed to produce the desired result: the al-Hussein warheads remained untouched. The video recordings showed clearly that the Patriots were not hitting the Iraqi missiles' warheads, in some cases they were missing by hundreds of meters.

One video recording, made by an amateur, which reached the team of experts, reinforced the hypothesis that the al-Hussein was indeed breaking up. The recording also showed that the al-Hussein's warhead did not continue on a precise ballistic course but executed a tumbling motion.

Once the erratic and unpredictable character of the al-Hussein and its warhead became apparent, it was decided that considerably more detailed data on the intercept process was needed. The Israelis requested Portable Data Recorders (PDR) for the Patriot batteries. The PDRs would then provide many details of the Patriot battery and al-Hussein behavior that could not otherwise be determined from video records. The analysis of the data received from the PDR enabled the Israeli experts to construct a more refined "behavior model" of the al-Hussein missile and to understand more details of the Patriot system's behavior. I have not been able to determine the exact number of PDRs that were used by the Israelis, but it appears to be between two to four. The PDRs arrived from Germany so late in the war that no more than two to three out of seventeen engagements were recorded.

The model showed that the al-Hussein began to break up at an altitude of 16 to 18 km (9.6 to 10.8 miles). The disintegration was not preplanned. The missile reentered the atmosphere at the same angle at which it had left and then broke up. The al-Hussein's warhead was aerodynamically stable and continued on its planned

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trajectory, dragging in its wake a trail of fragments 4 to 10 km (2.4 to 6 miles) long. The warhead itself then began its tumbling motion near the end of its flight path, executing unplanned movements, reaching accelerations of up to 8G.

The data analysis also showed that when the al-Hussein's disintegration began, the Patriot's radar would pick up a "stretching" of the target and briefly lose lock- on. Lock-on was reacquired within two to three-tenths of a second, but by then the radar was locked on to the tail end of the warhead or the back part of the missile.

Further analysis turned up a problem related to the Patriot's fuse. It was found to be unsuitable to the high closing speeds which developed between the al-Hussein and the Patriot. The Patriot has a proximity fuse which is supposed to detonate close to the target and destroy it by means of its fragments.

The Patriot's warhead was designed to be effective at a closing speed of up to about 2,100 meters per second. At higher speeds, it would explode too late, after the warhead of the incoming missile had already passed it, and too far away to destroy it. It was found that at an altitude of 12 km, the closing speed between the Patriot and the al-Hussein reached 3,500 to 3,600 meters per second (the al-Hussein's velocity at this altitude was some 2,100 meters per second, that of the Patriot about 1,500 meters per second). At an altitude of 7 km (4.2 miles) the closing speed was approximately 3,000 meters per second.

Having obtained these data and built a "behavior model" of the al-Hussein, the team of experts recommended changes in the programming of the Patriot's computer. One change was geared to cope with the changing speed of al-Hussein fragments and warheads following the disintegration of missiles. Another change was designed to bring about an earlier triggering of the Patriot's warhead. This would overcome the problem of the high closing speeds which, as noted, caused the Patriot's warhead to explode too late. The programming changes did not alter the hit ratios against the attacking missiles, though in at least one case, on February 19, 1991, the video recordings made during one of the intercept attempts show that no more than a few meters separated the al-Hussein and Patriot warheads. Yet, even in this instance the Patriot's warhead was activated too late, exploding after already having gone by the al-Hussein's warhead and too far away for its fragments to have an effect.

The analysis of the al-Hussein missiles indicated that they had an arming mechanism that activated their fuses only after a certain flight time had elapsed. If the cables and generators associated with the arming mechanism broke apart before the fuses were activated, the warhead would not detonate. In fact, the warhead of at least one al-Hussein which hit a building in Tel Aviv did not explode for this reason. No signs of damage done by Patriot fragments were found in this warhead; the failure of the arming mechanism was a result of the disintegration of the Scud from aerodynamic stresses, not from the action of a Patriot on the Scud.

In sum the findings and analysis carried out in Israel during and after the war produced no authenticated proof that al-Hussein warheads were hit or destroyed by Patriot missiles. In particular, no evidence or proof was found that Patriot missiles succeeded in neutralizing the detonation mechanism of the al-Husseins. One Iraqi

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warhead that hit the ground was found to have a puncture in it, but the experts were unable to determine with certainty the source of the puncture -- which may indeed have been made by a Patriot warhead fragment.

No other evidence exists that additional Iraqi warheads were hit or destroyed. There is, however, a conjecture, supported by a number of experts, that in some cases Patriot missiles deflected al-Husseins from their course. The presumption is that in cases where the al-Hussein was supposed to hit a point close to a Patriot battery, it was slightly deflected and landed a few kilometers away.

The criterion determined by Israel for success in intercepting ballistic missiles is the destruction of the attacking missile's warhead. Since these missiles are launched at densely populated areas, no other result can be considered a success. The fact that the rear sections of al-Husseins were hit, while the warhead continued on its path to the ground, did not prevent damage. Similarly, the deflection of incoming missiles from their course, if this actually occurred, caused the warheads to land elsewhere, but still in the middle of residential areas. And finally, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that warheads were missed by large distances a very high percentage of the time.

Thank you very much for your attention.