Army Pursuing Patriot System Enhancements
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — As long as budgets remain tight, the Army will focus on upgrading the Patriot missile system rather than developing a follow-on program, a top missile defense official said March 16.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s not a lot of appetite for expensive, exquisite [new] programs of record,” Lt. Gen. David Mann, commanding general of U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, told members of the military and industry at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Alabama. “Congress expects us to maximize [and] optimize … our current capabilities that we have.”
The Patriot, manufactured by Raytheon, it is designed to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles in their terminal phase. It is also capable of destroying enemy aircraft.
The Defense Department plans to buy missile segment enhancements to extend the range of the Lockheed-built PAC-3 missiles, Mann noted.
“We also have to make sure that we upgrade the other components of the Patriot system that can leverage these added capabilities that we’re bringing to the fight,” he said. “So we’re looking at new radars and other command-and-control [and] communications upgrades that we’re pursuing.”
The Pentagon has been conducting an analysis of alternatives for modernizing the radar system. Mann told reporters at the convention that a future radar needs: enhanced digital processing capability; greater ability to operate in harsh and degraded environments; the ability to acquire and engage threats at greater ranges; a 360-degree sensor capability; and an open architecture that would allow the system to be upgraded in response to emerging threats.
Raytheon has developed a Gallium Nitride-powered active electronically scanned array (AESA) main antenna for the Patriot. The company displayed its prototype for the first time at the convention.
“With [Gallium Nitride] you use a lot less prime power, so it’s more efficient and lowers your operating cost” relative to the current Patriot radar system, Douglas Burgess, director of Patriot AESA at Raytheon, told National Defense.
Components of the legacy radar that had the highest failure rates have been eliminated in the prototype, he said.
“The reliability, the operational readiness of the system is immediately improved substantially,” he said.
The technology will also allow operators to see higher, farther and wider, providing a 360-degree viewing capability, he added.
Raytheon plans to continue testing the prototype. When an operational system will be ready to field depends on the interest shown by the Pentagon and international customers, Burgess said. But it could be as little as three to four years down the road.
“The technology is here now. We don’t have to go through some long technology readiness program,” he said.
The new Patriot radar doesn’t necessarily have to utilize Gallium Nitride, Mann told reporters.
“That technology … is very interesting and receiving a lot of analysis and assessment,” he said. “But I think we’re willing to kind of open the spectrum or the bandwidth [and] take a look at what everybody is bringing to the table to make sure that we provide a very thoughtful and also long-term view of this needed [radar] capability.”
U.S. companies are the prime candidates for any contract that follows the analysis of alternatives, he said.
“Right now a lot of our emphasis is really kind of based on our U.S. industry partners,” he said. “We’re obviously looking at what other partners are bringing to the table to make sure that we provide the most cost effective solution to these challenging threats. But I think we’re primarily looking at U.S. industry’s [products].”
In addition to pursuing radar upgrades, the Army intends to use dismounted information command centrals to give the Patriot force more flexibility.
“That’s the brain trust of the Patriot unit that really gives the firing direction to the different batteries,” Mann said. Previously, the Army had to send the whole battalion set to employ the system, which strained limited resources, he noted.
“With these dismounted information command central components, we’re able to kind of ‘componentize’ that,” he said.
In the future, the Army will only have to deploy a portion of the battalion because the dismounted components will give it the necessary command-and-control capability to execute the fight, Mann said.
To further reduce the stress on the Patriot force, the Army plans to set up a dedicated test detachment to would put software and hardware upgrades through their paces before they are deployed.
“In the past, we’ve had to devote an operational element, an operational battalion to continuing our test and development efforts,” Mann said. “We’re going to get away from that. The Army in this day and age of declining manpower has made the decision to go ahead and foot the bill for additional manning to create the test detachment that will allow us to get after the developmental activities that we need to pursue.”
The change will enable operational battalions to focus on their mission, he said.
The Patriot, which gained fame during the Gulf War when it shot down Iraqi Scud missiles, has been a workhorse for United States’ missile defense forces. A dozen U.S. allies and partners also have the system.
The Army has 10-plus Patriot batteries deployed in the Middle East, as well as two Patriot battalions in Korea and one in Japan, Mann said. About 58 percent of Patriot assets are either forward stationed or forward deployed, he noted.
“The Patriot system… is going to be with us for many, many years to come, not only within our Department of Defense and within our Army, but also by our friends and partners around the world that have purchased this system,” he said.
Photo: Defense Dept.