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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Army Mulling Options for Patriot Upgrade 

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by Sandra I. Erwin  

As the U.S. Army prepares to field its first battery of new air-defense missiles—the PAC-3—service officials are hard-pressed to figure out what to do about a $500 million funding shortfall in the program and to decide how to proceed with proposed upgrades to its current system, the PAC-2.

Patriot Advanced Capability-2 is a corps-level air-defense system that has been used for nearly two decades to protect troops against enemy aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles.

The PAC-3 comes with an entirely new missile, which is much smaller than PAC-2’s and relies on hit-to-kill technology to defeat targets. PAC-3 currently is in low-rate production. The Army plans to buy 1,130 missiles at a unit cost of about $2 million.

The installation of the first battery of 16 missiles will be a morale boost for the Army, given the delays and budget overruns experienced in the program in recent years. The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization has been responsible for PAC-3 development so far, but the plan now is to turn over the program to the Army, because the technology is mature. BMDO allocated $784 million for PAC-3 in fiscal 2002. The Army will get 72 missiles in 2002.

The service, however, is not convinced that it has enough money to buy back the program from BMDO, said Lt. Gen. Joseph M. Cosumano Jr., head of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. “We have 10 Patriot battalions. We want to make sure we have enough money to equip all those battalions,” he told National Defense during a conference in Huntsville, Ala. “I support taking the program back from BMDO if the dollars are provided,” he said.

“Our initial investigation shows that only seven of the 10 battalions have enough dollars to convert PAC-2 to PAC-3,” said Cosumano. That equates to a funding shortage of $500 million, he said.

Cosumano’s deputy for acquisition, Brig. Gen. (P) John M. Urias, told National Defense that his office “is watching the transition of the PAC-3 program” to ensure BMDO provides adequate funding.

A senior Army budget official who asked to not be quoted by name said the funding shortage in PAC-3 will not “begin to hurt” until 2005. He acknowledged that the program has “serious financial problems” in the out-years.

The Army would like to convert all 10 Patriot battalions to PAC-3, said Cosumano. That is a reversal from the Army’s position a few years ago, when it was considering converting seven out of the 10 battalions and use the other three to work with a follow-on to Patriot system, the Medium Extended Air-Defense System. Delays in the Meads program prompted the Army to reconsider that decision.

“We are not sure when we are going to get Meads. It keeps getting pushed off,” Cosumano said. “It has some technical challenges.”

For that reason, he said, the Army opted to “convert all 10 battalions to PAC-3, as a hedge, in case Meads is not ready by 2012.”

Meads still is in the early stages of design by a multi-national industrial team of U.S., German and Italian firms. The program received $73 million in fiscal 2002. The Army wants Meads to be C-130 transportable. It will be used by U.S. and NATO forces to defend against cruise missiles, aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles. The missile will be same PAC-3 weapon used in Patriot.

Army officials have said repeatedly that Meads is the system of choice for the future force, because it will be mobile and easier to deploy than the bulky Patriot. Meanwhile, Patriot’s prime contractor, Raytheon Electronic Systems, is proposing that the Army fund a so-called Patriot Light system, which the company claims can make Patriot C-130 transportable. That proposal has been presented to the Army, but the service has not agreed to support it.

Army and industry sources interviewed for this story denied that there is a Patriot-vs.-Meads competition. But, given that military budgets often are a zero-sum game, an unofficial competition appears to be under way already. If the Army funded Patriot Light, it is likely that the dollars would come out of Meads. Such a competition would pit Raytheon against its archrival Lockheed Martin Corp., which owns 50 percent of Meads International. The other shareholders are Alenia Marconi, of Italy, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) and LFK, of Germany. Lockheed also is the prime contractor for the PAC-3 missile. “You get into a company rivalry,” said Cosumano. “But competition is good.”

The Army budget official said that funding for Meads is “OK on the front end, but not on the back end.” Like PAC-3, Meads will run into significant budget problems by 2005, he said.

The issue of Patriot vs. Meads is “about timing,” said Cosumano. He explained that, regardless of what upgrades are done to Patriot, the system cannot be improved to the extent that it could replace Meads. The Army, he said, needs to ensure that Patriot can keep operating for 25 more years, but it also should fund Meads for the future force, beyond 2025. “We have gone, technologically, as far as we can go with Patriot capabilities.”

The top priority for Patriot, he said, is to make it more deployable. “We have a smaller missile. But we still have a very large launcher. Our control vans are still oversized,” Cosumano said. “There is not a lot we can do about the radar to make it smaller.”

The most desired attributes that the Army wants from Meads are a radar with 360-degree coverage and a distributed software command-and-control architecture that would allow it to interact with other missile-defense systems in the theater, he said. “That means you can plug and play radars with various launchers as you move throughout the battlefield.”

Meads, he added, has to weigh less than 20 tons, to move with the maneuver force. “Patriot cannot do that. It has to be taken down when it’s moved so you don’t have any coverage.” Patriot’s radar has 90-degree sector coverage. “It could be defeated from someone coming behind the radar,” said Cosumano. “You can add more units to cover the back, but that takes more resources.” A PAC-2 system, including the radar, weighs about 140,000 pounds, he said. A C-130 can carry loads up to about 41,000 pounds.

In Desert Storm, he said, “we knew we only had a threat from one direction, so we placed the radar in the direction where we thought the Iraqi attacks would come from. ... When we started moving, on the attack, it became very difficult for us. Patriot was never designed to be mobile.”

Meads will take 10 years to develop, at least, he said. For that reason, “we will continue to investigate ways to make Patriot more deployable.”

Raytheon officials said the company spent $6 million to develop a Patriot Light concept. The command-and-control equipment and communications systems would be moved from three 5-ton trucks to two Humvees. A Patriot Light was tested in June during the annual Roving Sands air and missile defense exercise.

Walter Putis, Raytheon vice president, told reporters that if the Army decides that it wants the Patriot Light, it would need $75 million for development and testing, in addition to $280 million to modernize the radar. Even though the radar would be lighter than the PAC-2’s, it still would not provide 360-degree coverage.

With Patriot, said Putis, “Every day, you fight the obsolescence issue, because the system was built with ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s technology.” Raytheon currently is under contract to perform various upgrades to extend the operational life of Patriot until 2028.

When asked about the Patriot Light proposal, Cosumano said he had been briefed on it, but that it was unclear whether the Army would fund the program.

David L. Hartman, Raytheon’s manager of theater missile-defense programs, said the company is proposing a 40,500-pound radar for Patriot that would fit in a C-130. It would take three years to develop the downsized radar, he said in an interview.

“Our program, we believe, is not in competition with Meads,” said Hartman. “We understand that the Army has to make some decisions based on the dollars that they have.”

Even though the Patriot Light system would not provide 360-degree coverage, Hartman said the Army still could get wide coverage, with the use of its aerostat-based sensor platform, called JLENS. “Elevated sensors give you far greater range and ability to find small targets in clutter than a ground-based radar,” Hartman said.

Meads officials conceded that the radar design is the highest-risk technology in the program. “We are sharing radar technology from both sides of the Atlantic,” said Meads President Joel Strickland. The consortium is expected to complete a preliminary design in about two years.

An Army two-star general who manages acquisition programs at the Pentagon predicted that the Army will not have enough money to fund both PAC-3 and Meads. During a briefing to industry executives in Arlington, Va., this official said, “I think you’ll see some systems merge.” For example, he said, the Army should consider consolidating the Patriot and Meads radar programs, as well as the launchers.“We need to neck this down,” he said.

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