Patriot Missile Defense System: America's most advanced air defense equipment

It will be several months before the system will be used on the ground.
Ameya Paleja
The Patriot missile system in action
The Patriot missile system in action

Raytheon  

Before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's first overseas visit since the Russian aggression, the U.S. announced military aid worth $1.85 billion to the war-torn country. This includes the Patriot missile defense system, the best air defense system in the U.S. arsenal.

This explainer will help you understand why the Patriot Missile system is important and how it will help Ukraine defend itself.

What is the Patriot Missile Defense System?

Built by Raytheon Technologies Corp, Patriot stands for Phased Array Tracking Radar for Intercept on Target, is a surface-to-air-missile system designed to counter aerial threats. It was first deployed in 1991 during the Gulf War, where batteries of the system were deployed to protect regions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Israel.

The system consisting of a powerful radar, control station, power generator, and launch stations, is mobile and has a range of nearly 100 miles (160 km). A system battery can consist of up to eight launchers, each capable of holding between 4-16 missiles.

Patriot Missile Defense System: America's most advanced air defense equipment
The Patriot missile system during deployment

The Patriot system primarily uses two types of missiles: the PAC-2 interceptor, which has a blast fragmentation warhead, and the PAC-3, which uses hit-to-kill technology.

How much does it cost?

According to estimates from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a newly built Patriot system battery costs more than $1 billion along with its ammunition. The base system is worth $400 million, while the missiles for the battery cost $690 million.

Interesting Engineering has previously reported that the U.S. currently has 15 batteries of the Patriot system, which are deployed in Europe and the Middle East. It is likely that the one being supplied to Ukraine is coming from its stocks and not from an operational battery.

How will it help Ukraine?

Ukrainian forces which have so far resisted Russian aggression have in recent times been facing a barrage of missile and drone strikes. These strikes are also aimed at electricity infrastructure, threatening the power grid as Europe heads into a cold winter.

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Ukraine has sought additional help to strengthen its air defenses against such attacks even though the U.S. has earlier supplied it with the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS). The Patriot missile defense system is the best solution that the U.S. has in its arsenal and it is being supplied to protect critical assets in Ukraine.

When can Ukraine deploy the Patriot system?

According to a Reuters report, the Patriot system is expected to be shipped to Germany where Ukrainian soldiers will be trained on the system. While the operational crew of the system consists of only three members, the U.S. military typically assigns 90 members to a battery of the air defense system, which also includes maintenance crew ad communication specialists.

Training on the Patriot system usually runs into months. However, over the years, Raytheon has been working on improving the user interface of the system and it might just come in handy to train Ukrainian troops rapidly, following which the system can be deployed.

Patriot Missile Defense System: America's most advanced air defense equipment
The mobile air defense system Patriot

Doubts over the Patriot System

Raytheon has built more than 240 Patriot system units deployed in over 18 nations of the globe. While the system is one of the most advanced pieces of military equipment in the world, there are doubts about whether this is the most effective way of countering the Russian threat.

The drones used by Russia in the conflict are Iranian and assembled using cheaply available parts. At Russia's request, Iran has promised to supply hundreds, and even thousands of these drones, and an advanced system like the Patriot might not be the most economical way to counter such swarm threats.

Additionally, the deployment of the system, which has already made global news means that it will be on the Russian hitlist from the moment it arrives in Ukraine, and every attempt will be made to destroy it as early as possible, Reuters said in its report.

Moreover, the Patriot missile system is an air defense system, and other than protecting Ukrainian assets is unlikely to change the trajectory of the war that has been going on for over eight months.