Reuters ran a story recently concerning the very promising sales outlook for Raytheon’s Patriot air-defense system. It definitely had the ring of truth, because with the program that was supposed to replace it headed for bureaucratic oblivion, there’s no other game in town when it comes to land-based air defense. It needs to be upgraded for new threats and new theaters, but no doubt about — Patriot looks to be a very valuable franchise going forward.
I can’t help thinking, though, that it’s wasteful to just walk away from the billions of dollars the Army and allies have spent on the now-canceled Medium Extended Air Defense System. Patriot was conceived decades ago, at a time when everybody knew where the front line was in Europe. So a Patriot battery only covers about 120 degrees of the horizon, and it is nobody’s idea of easy to move. Surely there are items that were developed for the canceled system that could be used to make Patriot more agile, both in terms of its radar coverage and its overseas deployability.
I certainly understand why a country like Singapore would find Patriot appealing, because it’s very good at defending point targets and Singapore is a city-state. But America’s joint force will need to protect the entire Western Pacific against a diverse array of overhead threats — ballistic and air-breathing, manned and unmanned. Some could attack us from behind rather than executing the airborne equivalent of a frontal assault. So the Army really needs to think about how Patriot can be given 360 degree coverage and greater mobility.
Remember how the Army was planning to use technology from canceled programs like Comanche and the Future Combat System to pursue more affordable alternatives? Back then, it was rolling in money. Now it faces funding shortfalls through the end of the decade. Rather than wasting money by reinventing a wheel that has already cost taxpayers billions of dollars, can’t we look at how technology from the Medium Extended Air Defense System might be used to make Patriot lighter and more lethal?
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