Fifteen years ago, the US and Germany decided to replace their 40-year-old Patriot systems. Frustrated with Patriot’s flaws during combat in Iraq, warfighters agreed they needed a new system to defeat next-generation threats in 21st century combat scenarios. The answer was MEADS, which is designed for greater transportability and mobility, 360-degree coverage, more interoperability, and maneuver force protection. MEADS is based on a network architecture that can leverage other surveillance sensors. It uses non-proprietary software and open architecture to simplify upgrades and reduce costs – unlike other systems.
Now, nearly every new air and missile defense procurement seeks 360-degree protection, open architecture, and network-centric operation. New systems for the US, Germany, Turkey, and Poland include these requirements. In fact, even the Russians agree. Almaz-Antey says it is starting work on a system with MEADS-like capabilities.
Patriot has stayed competitive because it exists, not because it is the best solution. But to win new competitions, Raytheon is now promising capabilities Patriot does not have and asking nations to pay to develop a system that the US will not buy or use.
To be sure, MEADS and Patriot are now separated by $4B and over 10 years of development. There is a massive leap between a radar mockup and a fully integrated system. MEADS is proven. Patriot’s improvements are merely promised.
Only MEADS has proven 360-degree intercept capability with a dual intercept. In 2013, MEADS accomplished the unprecedented and unmatched intercept using all of its system components. Unlike Patriot, MEADS can already detect, track and intercept multiple targets in different directions at the same time. It also provides greater range with the PAC-3 MSE Missile using advanced MEADS radars that let the missile achieve its full capability. Patriot can’t do that, but has promised it can.
Only MEADS has put a networked system in the hands of German and Italian military personnel for two weeks of operator testing. The tests were designed to seamlessly add and subtract system elements under representative combat conditions, and to blend MEADS with other systems in a larger system architecture. The MEADS operators were able to rapidly recognize, incorporate, control, remove, reallocate and reposition launchers and sensors during engagement operations. Patriot can’t do that, but has promised it can.
Only MEADS provides full open architecture, which simplifies upgrades in response to emerging threats. Standardized interfaces and non-proprietary software provide capability to plug-and-fight both MEADS components as well as launchers and radars from other systems. In 2014, MEADS rapidly attached and controlled an external Italian deployable air defense radar. As a fully integrated asset in the MEADS network, the radar tracked air objects and supplied a common integrated air picture of the area around Pratica di Mare Air Force Base. Do any of the 13 Patriot users actually have capability to modify the system’s software? No. Just promises.
Right now, many NATO nations have a requirement for new AMD system with 21st century capabilities. Germany has chosen the proven MEADS system. None have chosen to fund Raytheon’s ambitious promises.
As a result, the risk is great. What if Poland decides to buy vintage Patriot systems as an interim solution but they are so expensive to own and maintain that Poland can’t afford to replace them with the capabilities it needs? What a dark promise that would be.