Patriot Failed -page 1- R. Pedatzur


Article from Ha'aretz, October 24, 1991, by Reuven Pedatzur


Failed at Time of Test: The U.S. Administration and the Patriot's manufacturer presented a deceptive picture of the performance of the Patriot during the war

With significant support of the Bush Administration, Raytheon, the manufacturer of the Patriot missile, produced a deceptive picture of the performance of the Patriot missile. In doing so, the company created a smear campaign against the Israeli Air Force and its officers who operated the Patriot missile batteries during the war. At the time Raytheon's statements were made senior Raytheon officials were fully aware of the true data about the performance of their missiles and the valuable information that had been collected and shared by Israeli missile experts was being acknowledged in private meetings.

The Offcial [Raytheon] Statement

On April 25, 1991, quite awhile after the Raytheon senior officials knew the whole truth about the performance of the Patriot, the company issued an official statement "in Saudi Arabia, just under 90 percent of the Scud missile engagements resulted in the destruction of the Scud's warhead," and also "in Israel about half of the Scud engagements by Patriot resulted in the confirmed destruction of the Scud warhead." The performance of the Patriot batteries in Israel were lower, according to the explanation of Raytheon, "[due to Israeli] adjustments to the operational procedures to improve [the Patriot system's] performance." But according to Raytheon, the [Israeli's] modifications in fact undermined the performance. Since then, the U.S. Administration, and even many research institutes around the world, have adopted this story as the true view of events.

The truth appears to be quite different. The tally of the Patriot's performance during the Gulf War shows that the Patriot batteries in Israel did not destroy even one single Scud warhead. The analysis of the Israeli team of missile scientists, which has been working on this problem from the first missile attack, has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Patriot missiles failed totally in the mission of intercepting the Scuds. The conclusion of the analysis was that the Patriot, which is based on the best innovation of Western technology, was unable to engage the Scud, which is based on technology that is three decades old.

After the batteries arrived in Israel they were all operated according to the U.S. doctrine of operation, which requires that the system be operated in the automatic mode. Against each target the Patriot battery launched two missiles. The time gap

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between launching the first and second missile is a few seconds, and the interception is supposed to be made by the first Patriot at a specific altitude.

Two of the four batteries that first arrived in Israel were transfered to Israeli command, but continued to be operated according to U.S. doctrine. However, it was soon discovered that even though the battery's radar system reported "hit" in virtually almost all intercept attempts, the warheads of the Scuds were not hit, and they reached the ground undamaged and exploded. The Israeli experts discovered that the source of the [incorrect] reports of successful hits was due to the fact that during an engagement the Patriot warhead is supposed to be detonated precisely at a point that was preplanned. When the Patriot radar detected the explosion at the preplanned point in space, the Patriot fire unit computer automatically reported a hit. There were no other indicators issued by the fire units to verify that the intercept was successful.

In order to observe the interception process, the Israeli team deployed precision cameras in areas surrounding the Patriot units. With these cameras, the puzzle of the missing of the Patriot was solved. The night of January 25th was the turning point, and following that night it was decided to modify the operating procedures of the batteries. During that night, 7 scuds were launched at Israel, 6 towards the Tel Aviv area, and one at Haifa. Not less than 27 Patriot missiles were launched at those 7 Scuds. None of them hit.

The Investigation of Intercept Attempts

The investigation of the many intercept attempts during that night revealed that all the Scud missiles disintegrated during their last phase of flight, and on the Patriot radar screens, each of them appeared as if it were three or four different targets. Against each target two Patriot missiles were automatically launched. And this is the reason for 27 interceptors being launched at 7 missiles. The behavior of the Scuds was deduced from a detailed examination of the films taken by Israeli missile experts. It was found that the Scuds started to disintegrate at a certain altitude, and the warheads, which remained intact until they exploded on the ground, were followed by trails of debris as they fell. According to experts in the West, the Patriot would be incapable of engaging a target with such a pattern of behavior. When the disintegration of the Scud began, the Patriot radar "sees" multiple targets, which caused it to break lock on the target. The radar would then search around the point at which it lost the target until a target was reacquired, but the reacquired target would often be the rear part of the warhead, or other debris of the Scud.

The radar would lock onto the pieces too late for the Patriot interceptors to be able to maneuver close enough to the attacking missiles. Also it has been revealed that the Patriot fuze was not planned to operate against a target with such a high closing speed, like the Iraqi Scud (the closing speed between the two missiles is about 3600 m/s), which resulted in the late detonation of the Patriot interceptor's warhead, after the Scud's warhead had passed by the Patriot interceptor. The Patriot, so it was shown, was planned in such a way that its fuze would be effective at passing speeds of up to 2100

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m/s. The Israeli team, conveyed all the data it collected along with its analysis to Raytheon, and even proposed two modifications for the fire unit's computer software, both of which Raytheon engineers adopted. One of the software modifications was made during the war, and the second one was made immediately after the war ended. In any case, even these software changes did not improve the results of intercept attempts, and the Patriots did not hit any Scud missile. Because of this situation, it was decided to change the operational procedures in the Israeli batteries and to move to operations in manual mode. This allowed the officer in the battery to manually overide the radar and to lock it on the warhead to avoid losing track of the missile when it disintegrates. Even that move did not change the results, and the Patriot missiles continued to miss.

Raytheon's statement that the results were much better in Saudi Arabia than in Israel could be said with impunity only because Raytheon well knew that there were no means to determine what actually happened in the Saudi based Patriot units. In addition, since most of the warheads in Saudi Arabia hit in the unpopulated surrounding desert, nobody actually knows what happened in most of the engagements.

A Danger for the Future

Raytheon and the U.S. Administration are participating in a sophisticated deception campaign. The danger is that research and development activities will continue on the false assumption that Patriot had an impressive success in intercepting Scuds. Ignoring the failures of the Patriot may lead to a failure to seek solutions to the problems which caused it to fail. In such a case, future defensive systems may face some unpleasant surprises.