Army Places Gigantic Wager On Revamped Patriot Missile gives a thorough account of the Patriot missile’s history (and current status):
For many Americans, the bright green explosions of Iraqi Scud missiles and Patriot interceptors provided the most memorable images of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Washington seized on the Patriots as a symbol of how its technical prowess was key to winning modern wars. A Patriot missile launcher even accompanied the victorious troops in a Manhattan ticker-tape parade.
But a decade later, Defense Secretary William Cohen said just before leaving office that the Patriot “didn’t work.”[...]The stunning TV images for the most part showed Patriots and erratic, often-malfunctioning Scuds exploding independently of one another.
Not very reassuring.
The latest Patriot, the Army says, is a big improvement over the old model, which knocked down missiles by exploding in their flight path. The new version destroys enemy missiles by slamming into them, a method known as “hit to kill.”
Army and industry officials say the force of the collision, which the original Patriots couldn’t deliver, allows the new models to dissipate chemical or biological warheads on impact.
If the old missiles couldn’t even place high-explosives close enough to a Scud to hit it with shrapnel, what are the odds that the new missiles can “hit a bullet with a bullet” and slam right into a Scud?
The PAC-3s [the new Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles] currently cost about $2.7 million each, though the cost is expected to be between $1 million and $2 million once full production begins.
By contrast, the Scud, based on a 1960s-era Soviet design, is about as cheap as a missile comes nowadays.
I have to wonder how much damage one Patriot even prevents — when it works. Does a Scud do millions of dollars of damage? If a Patriot takes out a Scud one time in four, that’s $10 million or so it’s costing to stop a Scud. Would it be cheaper to evacuate everybody within Scud range and buy them new homes?
I find this telling:
Israel, which relied on the Patriot during the Gulf War, isn’t taking any chances. With U.S. funding and technical backing, Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd., a government-owned company, has designed its own missile-defense system, which is intended to intercept enemy missiles at an even higher altitude than the PAC-3. The $2 billion system, known as “Arrow,” has been fielded at Palmachim Air Force Base near Tel Aviv and near the city of Hadera.
They’re the ones with everything on the line, and they’re building their own missile system.
By the way, the very first Patriot missile system wasn’t even designed to shoot down other missiles:
The original system, first deployed in West Germany in 1985, was designed to shoot down Soviet bombers. It was never used in combat.