Due to the diminishing missile threat from Syria, the United States announced earlier this week that it will withdraw its two Army Patriot missile defense batteries and close to 300 soldiers that operate them from the hills above Gaziantep in southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border by this October. The batteries have been on station since January 2013, protecting the city of Gaziantep from Scud missile threats emanating from neighboring Syria and its ongoing conflict. Gaziantep is one of Turkey’s largest cities, with a population of nearly 1.5 million These Patriot deployments were in direct response to Scud missiles landing near the Syrian-Turkish border, and Turkey’s subsequent request for allied protection against these threats under Article 5 of the NATO charter. The United States joined the Netherlands and Germany in providing Patriot missile defense batteries to defend major cities and airports near the Syrian Border with Turkey. Both the Netherlands and Germany declared intentions to withdraw their respective Patriot batteries prior to the United States’ announcement.
Over the past two years, the short-range ballistic missile threat from Syria has been real. The multinational NATO Patriot force in Turkey have tracked dozens of Scud missiles fired inside of Syria by both the Assad regime and rebel forces. As late as March 25, 2015, a Scud missile fired by Assad regime forces landed outside of the Patriots’ area of defense near the Turkish city of Hatay. Five civilians were injured, and the explosion damaged houses and Turkish military vehicles.
This multinational deployment driven by Article 5 of the NATO Charter has been of tremendous value in bringing NATO’s contributing missile defense forces together in a NATO country to defend against a clear air and missile threat. This tri-nation deployment into Turkey has provided invaluable experience in persistent operations, data sharing, construction and maintenance of the sites required to host radars, launchers, generators, command and control, communications and living quarters for the over 600 NATO soldiers and their equipment. Furthermore, the intelligence gathered on birth to death tracking of short-range Scud missiles launched in Syria is a windfall and provides real combat experience for the soldiers and equipment. This successful deployment of the three nations’ common defensive battle system for NATO is the blueprint of a rapid response missile defense force that can be replicated and enhanced for NATO’s future Article 5 needs.
The U.S. decision to withdraw these batteries clearly reflects a downgraded assessment of the ballistic missile threat from Syria. Likewise, the requirement for having an Army missile defense battery deployed in Jordan for missile defense against Syria is also likely removed, with a pending decision for withdrawal of these forces forthcoming.
Releasing these three United States Army Patriot batteries and their Battalion Commands from Turkey and Jordan would alleviate some of the intense strain currently on the U.S. Army’s 15 Patriot battalions, of which 60% are forward deployed today. The U.S. Army’s doctrine regarding overseas deployment mandates a deployed/non-deployed ratio of 33% (33% deployed, 33% resting, 33% preparing to deploy). The U.S. Patriot missile defense forces have been continuously operating at or above a 60% deployment ratio for almost a decade – nearly double normal U.S. Army doctrine. This is simply unsustainable, and has placed enormous strain on the men, women, families and equipment of the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Branch.
The intense demand on U.S. Patriot units and its soldiers has also stifled the efforts to man and equip a Patriot testing battalion in the United States to put forward necessary upgrades to our Patriot systems. These upgrades are absolutely necessary to stay ahead of the short range ballistic missile threat around the world and include the implementation of Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) to plug and play with the best sensor and launcher without the massive battalion command infrastructure, the incorporation of the new Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor that can intercept at much higher altitude, and the needed PDB-8 radar software upgrades to enhance the performance of the radars.
The sustained deployment of the defense of Turkey over the past two years has been invaluable to Turkey, NATO, Germany, Netherlands and the United States.
It is great to see the mission completed and our soldiers returning home.
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