Lockheed Martin is looking to fire its PAC-3 Patriot missiles from US Navy's launchers

Adding more firepower to existing infrastructure across the U.S. military.
Ameya Paleja
PAC-3 missile.
PAC-3 missile.

Lockheed Martin  

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin could be looking to pair up its Patriot PAC-3 MSE missiles with the Mk 41 Vertical Launch systems being used by the U.S. Navy, The War Zone reported. The concept was spotted at the ongoing annual symposium conducted by the Surface Navy Association in Northern Virginia.

The PAC-3 missile, developed by Lockheed Martin is used on the Phased Array Tracking Radar for Intercept on Target (PATRIOT) defense system, the best air defense system available in the U.S. arsenal. The system recently made news after the U.S. government decided that it would lend one such system to Ukraine as it looks to shield itself from the Russian attack on its infrastructure.

The PATRIOT system built by Raytheon technologies was first deployed in the 1991 Gulf War to counter aerial threats such as aircraft cruise missiles as well as low-tier ballistic missiles. Currently, the system uses two types of interceptor missiles, the PAC-2, which has a blast fragmentation warhead, and the PAC-3, which uses hit-to-kill technology.

Interoperability of PAC-3 missile

According to the Lockheed Martin website, the PAC-3 is the most advanced air defense missile in the world and uses body-to-body contact to deliver kinetic energy on its target to destroy it. The PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) is a cost-reduction initiative that uses a two-pulse solid rocket motor for enhanced altitude and range.

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Lockheed Martin has been using the PAC-3 MSE to work with other defense systems as well and demonstrated this capability by integrating it with the U.S> Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Comand System (IBCS) as well as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) weapon systems.

Now, Lockheed Martin is looking to deploy these missiles on the Navy's vertical launch systems as well.

The Mk41 Vertical Launch System

The Mk41 is actually a Lockheed Martin product, and the integration of the PAC-3 MSE should seem straightforward. Capable of firing a wide range of surface-to-air, anti-ship, and land-attack missiles, the Mk41 is a versatile workhorse for the U.S. Navy as well as other navies around the world.

It remains to be seen how the PAC-3 MSE will be modified to work with VLS. The missile is 19 feet long, and adding an additional booster motor would increase its length, making it compatible only with the tactical and strike-length formats of the Mk41. Since the PAC-3 is smaller than its predecessors of the Patriot Missile system, it also allows for missiles to be loaded onto ground-based launchers, something we could see with naval launchers too.

While the nitty gritty of the concept still needs to be worked out, it definitely paves the way for interoperability of the firepower across domains. A PAC-3 MSE missile on a ship could help the U.S. Navy protect itself better in contested waters.

It also opens up another domain for the missile system since the Mk41 VLS has been modified to be used by the U.S. Army and provide more flexibility when it comes to air defense. The Army's VLS could team up with dedicated Patriot systems in shielding targets from the aerial onslaught, making it harder to bring down aerial defenses.