Last year, the Patriot program celebrated its 50th anniversary, and today Poland is being offered the PDB-8 upgrade version of the Patriot missile system. Offering the newest configuration could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Patriot is good enough to meet Poland’s future air and missile defense needs.
Unfortunately, it is not. Patriot is only a partial solution – and it will require more than Poland’s designated air and missile defense acquisition and sustainment budget. Here’s why.
Patriot was designed during a different time for a different threat. During the Cold War, Patriot’s primary mission was to defend fixed sites against Soviet bomber aircraft. It was not expected to move often, so Patriot is heavy and cumbersome, making it challenging to relocate. Since the threat was always expected to come from the east, Patriot was designed only to look in one direction, so it lacks the ability to see and engage targets over a full 360 degrees. As with other military systems designed in the 1960s, Patriot has a closed architecture and uses proprietary software, which limits operational flexibility and requires that software changes must be made by prime contractor Raytheon. Additionally today, due to age, reliability and obsolescence, challenges exist.
Germany understands these limitations and Patriot’s high operating costs. It conducted a detailed analysis before deciding on a solution for its TLVS air and missile defense system. It has sold many of its Patriot systems to other countries and last year selected the mobile, 360-degree, plug-and-fight MEADS system as a better choice rather than finance a risky Patriot modernization.
Poland is now assessing the same problem. It could buy the existing PDB-8 Patriot system and accept its limitations, but then Poland would not be able to afford a fully modernized 360-degree air and missile defense to defeat the future threats. The high cost to maintain the old system design will drive the Polish defense budget for decades to come. Most importantly, it will not provide the full air and missile defense protection Polish leaders seek to acquire.
There have been numerous situations in which Patriot units lacked full situational awareness because of its proprietary architecture and inability to fully integrate with other sensors. Conducting operations in the current and future airspace is complex and challenging. Today, all sensors must be able to join the network seamlessly and share data. Sectored and proprietary closed systems like Patriot do not allow integration of all other available sensors, so it cannot take full advantage of all available threat data..
The continued proliferation of affordable cruise missiles and other air and missile threats presents new dilemmas and complex attack strategies. There are several examples where cruise missile-like targets have been effective by circumventing Patriot’s sectored field of view. Had Patriot seen them, they would have been relatively easy targets to destroy. Today, 360-degree surveillance and engagement capabilities are essential to defeat these complex threats. Data sharing among sensors is of great value and importance in increasing the effectiveness of NATO forces to defeat complex threats.
Since 2004, Patriot has received billions in additional US funding to address reliability issues and improve its performance. Despite this expenditure, it still remains heavy, sectored and limited by its closed architecture.
At the same time, more than $4B and 10 years of development have been invested in MEADS to address Patriot’s operational limitations and lower the costs of operation and sustainment. MEADS is the first air and missile defense system capable of protecting a maneuvering force. It sees and defeats current and future threats over a full 360 degrees. MEADS end items are half the weight of Patriot’s, giving them mobility and air transportability. MEADS also employs an open, network-centric architecture that gives it plug-and-fight capability and unlimited options for employment with joint and allied partners.
For its medium-range air defense system requirement, Poland could choose a 50-year old partial coverage system it cannot afford to replace, and which will be challenged to defeat complex threats both today and the future. Or it could choose a networked 360-degree system designed to cost less, with advanced capabilities that have already been developed and proven.
We believe that Poland will benefit from a fair and open competition that includes the 360-degree MEADS system. By allowing military and technical experts to compare the MEADS system and its proven capability, we know that Poland will make an informed decision that both meets its stated military requirements and fully protects its future.
Mr. Bromberg is Vice President and Deputy for Strategy and Business Development, Air and Missile Defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. After 37 years, Lieutenant General Bromberg completed his service as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, G-1, for the United States Army. He commanded The Army’s Air Defense School and Fort Bliss, Texas, and the 32d Army Air Missile Defense Command during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Additionally, he commanded or served with Air Defense Units in Europe, the Pacific and Southwest Asia.