Patriot Missile Defense System

- , January 30 2019


Mobility Ground-based, mobile
Targets UAV, Cruise Missiles, Short-range Ballistic Missiles
Role 15km (PAC-3), 22km, interceptor
Status Interceptor sites all over the globe. Currently, there are eight battalions with 33 batteries stationed in the United States. There are seven battalions with 27 batteries stationed overseas.
Producer Lockheed Martin, Raytheon


The Patriot missile defense system is a ground-based, mobile missile defense interceptor deployed by the United States and many other nations. The Patriot system detects, tracks, and engages UAVs, cruise missiles, and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles. Patriot missile systems have been tested in combat operations in the Middle East during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have been used to down more than 100 tactical ballistic missiles in combat operations. Today, the Patriot integrated air and missile defense system is deployed by the United States and U.S. partners and allies around the globe.

The Patriot system consists of five major components: a radar set, engagement control station, missile launchers, and Patriot missiles. The radar set is made up of an AN/MPQ-53 C-band, multifunction phased array radar system that is remotely controlled by the MSQ-104 control station. The radar is able to detect and track more than 100 potential targets and has a range of over 100 km.[i] The AN/MSQ-104 engagement control station is the only manned part of a Patriot unit and is designed to communicate with the launching stations, other Patriot batteries and headquarters, and track and prioritize targets. The control station is typically manned by three operators who are responsible for the two consoles and a communications station with three radio relay terminals.[ii] In order to power the radar set and engagement control system, each Patriot unit also has a power plant truck equipped with two 150-KW generators.

The missile launchers and Patriot missiles complete the Patriot system. Each missile launcher has four canisters and transports, aims, and fires the missiles. The missile launcher can be located separately from the radar and control station and can be ready to fire a missile in less than 9 seconds. Once the missile launches it transmits data back to the radar station which tracks and helps guide the missile to its target. The Patriot missile has been upgraded since it was first deployed and variations include the PAC-2, PAC-3, GEM-T, and PAC-3 MSE missiles.

Patriot Variants

  • PAC-2: The Patriot PAC-2 interceptor was the first to be used for missile defense during the Gulf War. It consisted of a single stage, ground- launched interceptor with a high-explosive warhead designed to explode near incoming missiles and disrupt their flight.
  • PAC-2 GEM: The Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM) improved the original
    PAC-2 interceptors by upgrading the seeker, allowing it to intercept low radar signature targets more effectively, and also the proximity fuse to accomplish better detonation near ballistic missiles.
  • PAC-2 GEM-T: The GEM-T is an upgrade to the PAC-2 interceptors that gives the system a new fuse and systems that make its radar more sensitive to targets with small radar signatures. This allows the GEM-T to defeat more air-breathing capabilities as a complement to upgraded PAC-3 missiles within an integrated air and missile defense system.
  • PAC-3: While earlier PAC-2 missiles were all blast fragmentation interceptors, the PAC-3 increases effectiveness with hit-to-kill interceptor systems. Patriot launchers that have been appropriately modified can also carry 16 PAC-3 interceptors in contrast to being able to load four PAC-2 missiles.
  • PAC-3 MSE: The PAC-3 missile segment enhancement achieves greater speeds and maneuverability through a more powerful rocket motor and larger tail fins to allow it to defeat more advanced ballistic and cruise missiles.

Regional Defense. While Patriot missile defense systems are capable of operating independently to intercept short-range missiles and other airborne threats, they are primarily designed as a point defense. This means that they protect a specific asset or location, and are best deployed as part of a layered missile defense system since the missiles have a range of only about 15-22 km, although the radar has a range of about 100 km. As part of a layered defense system, Patriot systems are able to work with other missile defense system such as THAAD to form a multi-tier, integrated, overlapping defense against missile threats in the terminal phase of flight.

International Cooperation. Patriot missile defense systems have been purchased by 13 nations. Countries with Patriot missile defense systems include the United States of America, The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Israel, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Taiwan, Greece, Spain, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. In November 2017, Romania, Poland, and Sweden struck missile defense deals with the United States to buy the Raytheon-made Patriot missile defense system.

Deployment. The Patriot system is designed to provide air and missile defense capabilities at a tactical level in defense of U.S. deployed forces and allies. Numerous countries currently field Patriot missile defense systems around the world to protect civilian populations and deployed troops from the threat of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, rockets, and aircraft. Patriot Systems were combat tested during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and used as part of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Strategic Implications

Middle East. In the past several years, numerous countries have deployed Patriot systems to secure their borders and protect their troops from the threat of tactical ballistic missiles. Between January 2013 and the end of 2015, Tukey hosted five NATO Patriot batteries to augment the country’s missile defense capabilities against the threat of ballistic missiles from the conflict in Syria. Since 2012, these Patriot batteries have detected several hundred ballistic missile launches within Syria[iii] and tracked their flight path making sure that they did not pose a threat to Turkish civilians or forces deployed along the border.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia currently field Patriot missile defense systems to protect their troops deployed with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and civilian populations along the Yemen/Saudi Arabia border. Since the conflict began, the Houthi rebels have fired numerous Scud and Tochka missiles at the Saudi coalition forces, a number of which have been intercepted by Patriot batteries.

Pacific. Japan, South Korea, and the United States currently deploy Patriot systems in the Pacific to protect their populations and/or deployed troops. The United States has stationed Patriot batteries in South Korea since 1994 to guard against North Korea’s short-range ballistic and cruise missiles, in addition to the Patriot batteries South Korea uses as part of its missile defense system. Japan also deploys Patriot batteries as part of its missile defenses around Tokyo. In 2022, the 94th AAMDC successfully completed its first Patriot missile live-fire at Airai International Airport in Palau as part of Valiant Shield 22.


  • U.S. 2022 Patriot Sales to Taiwan: Throughout 2022, the U.S. approved multiple potential Patriot sales to Taiwan, including a $100 million sale of equipment and services to Taiwan to “sustain, maintain, and improve” its Patriot missile defense system in February, another worth $95 million in April, a service contract to upgrade the launchers to Patriot-3 GEMs in August, and in December, a $882 million deal to upgrade its systems to PAC-3 GEMs [iv]
  • Joint Testing with F-35A Lightning II: In June 2022, the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps successfully performed a live-fire exercise of the Patriot system in Palau as part of Exercise Valiant Shield drills. In collaboration with an F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft, the system shot down a dummy cruise missile over the Pacific Ocean using two PAC-2 Patriot interceptors. This drill marked the first time that a Patriot system had been used alongside a stealth fighter outside of the United States.
  • Patriot PAC-3 MSE Improvement: The Patriot PAC-3 MSE is the latest Patriot PAC-3 missile and as of November 2017 has completed all complex tests paving the way for a full-rate production decision. In 2015, the system completed operational testing and has been approved for initial production. The PAC-3 MSE’s features a larger, dual pulse solid rocket motor; larger fins; and upgraded actuators and thermal batteries to accommodate increased performance and extend the range of the missile.[v] Current Patriot launchers can hold up to 12 PAC-3 MSE missiles or a combination of six MSEs and eight PAC-3 missiles.[vi] Like the PAC-3, the MSE uses hit-to-kill technology to intercept incoming missiles and is designed to meet evolving threats.
  • Mid-2000s: Under a foreign military sales agreement, the Netherlands and Japan purchased Patriot missiles with the Netherlands buying 32 and Japan 16. The Netherlands received its first PAC-3 missiles in October 2007. In December 2007 and July 2008, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait requested the sale of Patriot missile defense systems including PAC-3 and GEM-T missiles. Taiwan also purchased PAC-3 upgrade kits and missiles in 2008.[vii]
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom: During Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Patriot batteries intercepted a total of nine enemy tactical ballistic missiles. One notable intercept occurred on March 23, 2003 when Iraqi forces launched an Ababil-100 tactical ballistic missile (TBM) at coalition forces in Kuwait. The TBM was destroyed by a Patriot system protecting over 4,000 Soldiers and the Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.
  • Late 1990s/early 2000s – Patriot Advanced Capability – 3 (PAC-3) Upgrade: The Patriot PAC-3 was a major upgrade to the Patriot missile defense system and uses hit-to-kill technology to intercept incoming missiles. The hit-to-kill technology and the advanced missile guidance system enable the missile to destroy its target through the kinetic energy released by colliding with the target.[viii] The PAC-3 also provides more fire-power per can Patriot launcher since 16 PAC-3 missiles are loaded on a launcher compared to four PAC-2 missiles.[ix The PAC-3 was first operationally deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • Late 1990s – Guidance Enhanced Missile: Following Operation Desert Storm, production began on the Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM). The GEM was a post-war anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) improvement to the PAC-2 missile that enhanced the Patriot system’s ability to hit targets at higher altitudes and greater distances.[x] The GEM and its variants also used a blast fragmentation warhead to destroy incoming missiles, meaning that an incoming missile would be knocked off course and destroyed by the GEM exploding in close proximity to it, rather than actually hitting it. The GEM-tactical (GEM-T) was also fielded as part of the GEM upgrades to the PAC-2. The GEM-T increased the Patriot’s effectiveness and lethality against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and remotely piloted vehicles.[xi]
  • 1994: During the 1990s, the U.S. began deploying Patriot missile defense systems to protect its troops around the world and sold the technology to its friends and allies. In 1994, the United States stationed the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery in the Republic of Korea in response to North Korea’s threats to suspend the armistice on the Korean Peninsula. Patriot batteries are still deployed in South Korea today to protect some 28,500 U.S. troops and South Korean civilians.
  • Operation Desert Storm: During the Gulf War, U.S. Patriot batteries brought down at least 11 enemy missiles and other Patriot batteries deployed in defense of Israel’s major cities intercepted numerous incoming missiles as well. The first wartime intercept by a Patriot system occurred on January 18, 1991 when Iraq launched a Scud missile towards Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia. The missile was brought down by two Patriot missiles fired by Battery A, 2d Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, 11th Brigade. This was also the first anti-missile interceptor fired during combat operations.
  • Late 1980s/early 1990s – Patriot Advanced Capability – 2 (PAC-2) Upgrade: The PAC-2 was the first major missile upgrade for the Patriot system and featured a one-stage, solid-fuel, ground-launched missile designed to intercept aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. The PAC-2 carries a conventional high-explosive warhead, can reach a maximum speed of over 3,500 mph, and has a range in excess of 60 miles.[xii] The PAC-2 also differed from the PAC-1 in that there was a 3-4 second delay between missile launches rather than an almost simultaneous salvo.[xiii] Raytheon began production of the PAC-2 in 1988, following a successful test of the missile’s upgraded kill capacity in 1987.[xiv] The U.S. accelerated production of the PAC-2 in 1990 after the decision was made to deploy it during Operation Desert Storm.
  • Mid-late 1980s: The U.S. Army Missile Command began updating the Patriot system’s software including the missile’s tracking ability and changing the missile’s warhead to increase the probability of a “warhead kill,” destroying the incoming missile’s offensive power. The Army tested these upgrades at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico in 1986 and they are considered to be the Patriot PAC-1 upgrades. In 1988, the first Patriot units featuring the PAC-1 software upgrades were considered operational.[xv]
  • 1985: The Army recommended the deployment of Patriot systems to Europe and the Patriot was issued to units of the 32d Army Air Defense Command in Europe. At this time, the deployed Patriot system was only capable of shooting down aircraft.[xvi]
  • May 1982: The U.S. Army activated the first Patriot missile battalion.[xvii]
  • December 1981: The first Patriot missile was delivered.[xviii]

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