Air Defense History: The Patriot Missile system from 1975-2003

M-901 Launching Station for the Patriot missile system circa 1991

M-901 Launching Station for the Patriot missile system circa 1991

Patriot started in 1964 with the Army Air Defense System for the 1970s (AADS-70s) which became Surface-to-Air Missile, Development (SAM-D). Development started in Huntsville Alabama. In 1975 it hit a drone at White Sands Missile range. Continued development saw the name change to Patriot. A famous Air Defense Urban Legend says that the development team were fans of the New England Patriots football team. Type classified as MIM-104, Patriot began to replace Nike missiles in 1981.

Unlike Nike, Patriot is mobile. The “Big 4”: Radar, Engagement Control Station(ECS), Antenna Mast Group(AMG), Electric Power Plant (EPP) are mounted on trucks or in the case of the radar, towed.
Nike needed buildings and commercial power with a generator backup. Patriot uses the two massive generators on the EPP to make it’s own power.

Japenese Patriot Radar

Japenese Patriot Radar

The Patriot radar is phased array. Forget what you saw in the movies, the radar sends out thousands of pulses because it has many elements. That is the “array” in phased array (the number is classified, wikipedia says 5,000 elements. The AN/MPQ-53 and AN/MPQ-65 radar sets are passively scanned arrays. That means a traveling wave tub sends radio energy at the main array and that array sends out many, many pulses. If the Nike radar was like having a man with very powerful binoculars, the Patriot radar is like having a large group of people with those binoculars.

That means that parts of the array can be dedicated to IFF, others talk to the missiles (Track-via-Missile or TVM). Imagine shooting an arrow at a target and getting to see the bull’s eye from the point of view of the arrow. That’s what TVM does. The system can steer the missile to the target much better than Nike. Plus, the many elements make Patriot lethal to small targets like stealth aircraft and UAV’s. No aircraft is invisible, stealth just makes it harder to be seen on radar, but the system can see farther and better than older radars. Jamming a phased array is harder too.

Dutch Engagement Control Station

Dutch Engagement Control Station

The AN/MSQ-104 Engagement Control Station (ECS) it the brains of the outfit. “The Van” as we call it has two consoles, UHF/VHF radios and the weapons control computer (WCC). An enlisted soldier is on one stations, an officer is on the other. The WCC is ancient by today’s standards, but it gets the job done. It aims and fires the missiles and diagnoses system faults. The officer controls the fight from his station by watching the IFF indications, but the enlisted soldier fires the missiles.



The radios are in “stacks” inside the van. But radios are useless without antennas. FM radios inside the van have antennas on the roof. They are used to talk to the rest of the battery and HQ. But to send data large UHF/VHF radios have cables that connect to a truck called the Antenna Mast Group or AMG. The AMG is a pair of big antennas that provide communications (both unencrypted and encrypted).

Now about that launcher pic on the first paragraph. The launcher has not changed much. Hydraulics point the missiles at the sky. Radios and fiber optic cables provide two forms of communications fromt he launcher to the ECS. 14T soldiers drive the launchers where they need to go and they use a special crane to reload them.

Crane loading missiles

Crane loading missiles

Patriot Missile Launch, PAC-2

Patriot Missile Launch, PAC-2

In the 1988, Patriot was tasked against tactical ballistic missiles(TBM’s). Previously, Patriot Advanced Capability-1 missiles were only for use against aircraft. PAC-2 was an upgrade in explosive power and radar and software. It made the missiles more powerful and added the ability to search for TBM’s in the sky. During Desert Storm, PAC-2 intercepted Scud missiles fired by Iraq against Saudi Arabia and Israel. While many dispute Patriot’s effectiveness, it did much to end the Scud menace. One Scud did hit a barracks due to a software error. Latter upgrades for PAC-2 included better fused to hit missiles sooner and harder. Some scuds were hit in the back or motor section and not in the warhead. They still fell despite being hit.

A PAC-3 Launcher in South Korea

A PAC-3 Launcher in South Korea

As part of SDI, the Extended Range Interceptor (ERINT) was added to Patriot. Called PAC-3, thse smaller missiles hit the target instead of blowing up next to it. PAC-3 added more missiles (16 per launcher instead of the earlier 4) and a complete software and hardware changes. Whereas PAC-2 could look for a TBM, PAC-3 could tailor it’s search for a specific threat much faster and more efficiently. It can have a “keepout” altitude where it hits missiles before they get too close. By hitting the missiles directly instead of hitting them with fragments, the PAC-3 missile destroys WMD warheads inflight. Further upgrades included Link-16 for data transfers to allied units and our Air Force and Navy, LCD screens to replace the CRT’s we use and more software upgrades.

All in all it’s a hell of a system for a 1960’s era cold war baby. In 2003, the PAC-3 missiles destroyed all Scuds fired.

Fort Bliss has a long history with Patriot. The 6th ADA Brigade used to train Patriot soldiers there. MOS 14E and 14T are the fire control and launcher soldiers respectively. 6th Brigade has moved to Fort Sill Oklahoma to be next to the field artillery school.

The system is used by our allies as well. It replaces Nike or compliments it in the following countries.
* Egypt

Egyptian Air Defense Command

* Germany


* Israel

Israeli Air Force

* Japan

Japan Air Self-Defense Force

* Republic of China (Taiwan)

Republic of China Air Force

* Kuwait

Kuwait Air Force

* Netherlands

Royal Netherlands Air Force

* Saudi Arabia

Royal Saudi Air Defense

* South Korea

Republic of Korea Air Force

* Spain

Spanish Army

* United States

United States Army Air Defense Artillery


9 Responses to “Air Defense History: The Patriot Missile system from 1975-2003”

  1. […] So PAC-3 was first. Developed as part of “Star Wars”, it hit a missile with a missile. By kinetic force alone it would cause the missile to explode and disburse the toxic stuff over such a wide area that it would be harmless. The problem was the the range was only a little better than Patriot. […]

  2. Jerry Gabig Says:

    Can somebody explain to me why the generators for the Patriot are manufactured by Lechmotoren Corporation of Germany?

  3. It’s a deal between the US and Germany, they buy the missile and radar, we buy the gennys.

    But future systems will not be @400 hz, the Army learned it’s lesson on that one.

    • Jeremy Hedlind Says:

      All AMD systems will continue to operate on 400hz power. 400hz power allows the use of smaller (lighter) inductors in the electronics where size and weight are of critical importance. This is why all aircraft operate at 400hz and all future AMD systems will continue to operate at 400hz.

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  6. It was interesting to be part of this, we were the first tactical battery delivered to the Army at Ft. Bliss, and spent FOREVER in the field coming up with procedures, tactics and work arounds .

  7. Sir, I salute you. We’re carrying on the tradition. Thanks for paving the way!

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