The Patriot Missile Defense System Is In High Demand: The Patriot air defense missile system has been a jewel in the United States’ military crown since Operation Desert Storm when it went up successfully against the notorious Iraqi Scud missile. Allies know this, that’s why the Patriot is a popular target for foreign military sales.
Not every ally gets the prize. Ukraine has made its intentions known that it wants to have the Patriot system sent to Kyiv, while South Korea is consummating a recent purchase.
Let’s take a closer look at the Patriot to see why it is so popular.
PAC-3s Going to South Korea
Lockheed Martin makes the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and South Korea just greenlighted a purchase of $600 million over the next five years to receive PAC-3 interceptors. The country’s older PAC-2 launchers will be upgraded to enable interaction with the newer PAC-3s Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptors. The PAC-2 has a range of 12 miles while the PAC-3 can destroy bogeys at 24 miles. Seoul has wanted to give a boost to its missile defense system for years to counter North Korea’s ballistic missile threat.
South Korea Building Its Missile Defenses
South Korea has a multi-layered missile defense array with American PACs and the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) along with destroyers with the Aegis anti-missile combat system. The South Koreans also have their homegrown medium-range anti-missile system called the Cheolomae-II.
Must Protect Seoul from the North
The Republic of Korea (ROK) military has long wanted to get a missile defense umbrella over Seoul and other cities. The PAC-3 additions will help them achieve better protection. One PAC-3 launcher has 16 missiles. It only takes 30-minutes to get the missile ready to fire.
Specs Are Impressive
Keala Milles, writing in Defense World on June 8 said, “Indeed, these PAC-3 MSE interceptor missiles are an upgrade. These rockets have a two-pulse, solid-fueled motor that will surely increase altitude and their range of abilities to defend against continuously-evolving threats.”
This motor gives the interceptor greater power and range, and the PAC-3 is a world-leader in hit-to-kill technology.
No Relief for Ukraine
The Americans are willing and able to sell PAC-3s to South Korea, but Ukraine is another story.
Sensing even more missile attacks at the hands of the Russians, Kyiv has its eyes on the Patriot system. The United States has sent long-range artillery such as the M777 towed howitzer and counter-battery radar (10 AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder Weapon-Locating Radar systems) that could target a Russian land-based ballistic or cruise missile launcher. But no Patriot defenders.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has stated that the Patriot systems would require American soldiers on the ground and that training Ukrainian personnel on the advanced-capability interceptors was not an option. Soldiers who serve on Patriots are in high demand around the world. Whenever there is a deployment or training mission, the brass always wants air defense artillery soldiers to be near friendly forces. So, it stands to reason, that existing Patriot troops are already gainfully employed and not able to train the Ukrainians. Plus, the United States wants no boots on the ground in Ukraine.
Bartering Works Too
Another option is swapping missile defense systems by sending the Patriot to NATO allies and then having the receiving country deliver a different air defender to Ukraine. This happened in April when President Joe Biden approved a Patriot system to be sent to Slovakia so the country could in turn ship an S-300 system to Ukraine. This Patriot will have American soldiers deployed to operate it. This makes more sense because the Ukrainians already know how to control an S-300. Obviously, Kyiv wants more than just one, but it is a start.
Of course, it is still frustrating to the Ukrainians that the system can be sold to South Korea and at least a dozen U.S. allies but not made available to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s forces. Russia has fired precision-guided missiles and unguided missiles that have punished Ukrainian cities and killed and maimed civilians. They want the best missile defenders in the world to counter this threat and Zelenskyy is always persistent, so maybe the United States will change its mind.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.