Patriot Missiles shooting down our side
April 3, 2003 8:38 PM   Subscribe

US fighter shot down by Patriot missile The Patriot Missiles that are supposed to be the protector of American forces are living up to their reputation. So far, one just shot down an F-18, and previously took out a RAF Tornado, killing two people. Another one locked onto an F-16, but the quick-thinking pilot blew up the Patriot missile battery's radar dish with a HARM missile. These missiles didn't work in the last gulf war, and are continuing to follow that trend. The locking onto allied planes seems to indicate a bug in the IFF routines of the Patriots. Not very patriotic of it.
posted by Xoc (20 comments total)
Maybe they should add a little digital encoded beacon to all their equiptment that will turn on if the patriot locks on them and the "crazy" thing will just drop out in the middle of no where.
posted by ellis at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2003

The Patriots have long since undergone many control system upgrades. For the unitiated, every time a Patriot battery responds to a ballistic alert, 3 of them are fired. The first contains the latest, and most accurate code to seek the missile itself. The other two, designed as such, hold back to come in after detonation to destroy large pieces that may still be intact.

All this, after zipping through the air and connecting with a vector and trajectory of a @%@#$!@# full-speed missile? that says a lot for the ability of those engineers and developers.

If we only spent so much effort designing other things as we did weapons of destruction.
posted by shadow45 at 9:14 PM on April 3, 2003

I see nothing about an F-16 taking out a radar dish. URL?
posted by benh57 at 9:15 PM on April 3, 2003

Google is your friend.
posted by bargle at 9:25 PM on April 3, 2003

how far would the money spent on these patriot missiles on viagra and the jets shot down by the errant missles have gone in helping the millions dying of AIDS or famine in africa?
posted by specialk420 at 9:44 PM on April 3, 2003

The success of these anti-missile systems truly inspires confidence in the idea that they might one day surround our own country. I'd like to think that by then they could actually guarantee a deployed SDI barrage won't accidentally target, you know, Philadelphia or something.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:56 PM on April 3, 2003

The Patriot is a very capable system. The "failures" during Gulf I were usually not failures... they were simply a side effect of the design at the time.

Patriot 1 (not its real designation but useful for this) were intended to explode near an aircraft - the proximity detonation was intended to compensate for a number of countermeasures and maneuvers.

it was, in many ways, a miracle that they were as good at missile defense as they were - and they WERE good. While occasionally a warhead or debris chunk would cause damage overall they reduced the net casualties.

After G1 they were completely redesigned. The new Patriot (P2) is a contact weapon and as such exploded on or inside the target. They are extremely reliable and effective.

However, this is a war zone... reaction times are extremely small and the time to make a decision is similarly tiny. The risk of occasionally blowing a friendly craft out of the sky is absolutely worth it to prevent a unchallenged missile or air strike that could kill hundreds.

When you consider the number of sorties (10's of thousands so far) the IFF systems are doing incredibly well. Add in that the equipment (IFF ont he planes) is under extreme conditions the whole thing is doing a fantastic job.

As for the money being spent on "other things" the answer is it would have gone pretty far - and that wouldn't matter a damn to me if the US wasn't capable of projecting its power at need and defending itself.
posted by soulhuntre at 10:22 PM on April 3, 2003

and defending itself.

Yeah, it's a good thing we attacked those Iraqis before they attacked us. Their military machine is awesome, and they definitely posed an imminent threat.
posted by moonbiter at 10:26 PM on April 3, 2003

Patriot Missile a success story: one Kuwait-based crew claims an eight-for-eight kill ratio (of targets launched against). Patriot batteries are always on the lookout for Iraqi warplanes and unmanned drones, but have an array of procedures to identify friend from foe before opening fire. As well as transmitting devices carried in US and UK aircraft which alert Patriot launchers to their peaceful intentions, friendly aeroplanes also fly in special safe channels and behave in a different way than would an attacking Iraqi bomber.

Note that in a warzone, an airplane's transponder may not be activated, because it could allow enemy AAA to lock onto the craft. Thus electronic IFF is not necessarily available. The doctrinal approach would be close coordination of air defense with overflying AWACS providing air-traffic control, but that includes humans at every step and is clearly fallible. We also can't completely discount broken IFF equipment on the aircraft.

Nevertheless, Pentagon techs are furiously working on the possibility that a software bug may have contributed to these accidents. It's clear to many that the PAC-3 generation missile [deployed since the mid 90s] is a vast improvement over PAC-2 [the version used in GWI], with a yet-improved PAC-3 already in operational testing. Still, no system will ever be perfect, and in particular no system will ever be immune from human error. In a way, there's a silver lining in that the US Hornet was hit, because it indicates that it isn't only a matter of interservice communication, US-UK technology incompatibilities, or a deficiency of cross-service training.

Note that the missile's performance is being closely studied by Japan, which is considering upgrading to PAC-3 for its ABM defenses.
posted by dhartung at 11:03 PM on April 3, 2003

I think the problem with these missile defences is that they are thinking too small. I am confident that once anti-ballistic missile measures are expanded to cover the whole of North America that they will prove to be entirely reliable.
posted by biffa at 1:09 AM on April 4, 2003

Haven't heard about Patriot friendly fire incidents, but assuming these reports are not disinformation, it's hardly an indictment of the missle, which seems to be working very well this time.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:50 AM on April 4, 2003

What moonbiter said.
posted by tr33hggr at 6:18 AM on April 4, 2003

What's funny to me about this question, this answer (in the last paragraph), and this rebuttal is that one of the excuses King George the third has given for doing this is as a proactive defense against something like biological terrorism.

Let's say the worst happens, and a desparate Hussein arranges for some al qaeda operatives to get a hold of some weaponized anthrax or smallpox or something which they unleash in one of our large cities. ("Ha, take that!" he says, and he chortles at the live CNN coverage from his underground bunker.) Well, if that were to happen, we might wish we had done a little more on research for combatting the spread of rapidly mutating deadly virii and a little less on knocking out incoming planes and missiles. Isn't that ironic? Dontcha think?

When it comes to investing in one's own defense this is the sort of shape-shifting problem that's spectacularly hard to plan in advance for. I feel I've played enough strategy games to say this with authority. However this might also explain why I feel we should have been completely friendly to Hussein this whole time and suddenly, without warning, turned on him and wiped him out with our Superweapon.
posted by wobh at 8:04 AM on April 4, 2003

So it wouldn't be true to say that any product called "Patriot", be it missile, legislation, or motion picture starring Mel Gibson, is ill-advised, inimical to its intended purpose, and ultimately self-destructive? Pity. Thought I saw a pattern developing there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:10 AM on April 4, 2003

is the guidence system running on WindowsME?
posted by th3ph17 at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2003

Haven't heard about Patriot friendly fire incidents, but assuming these reports are not disinformation

PP, you're pancakeing yourself. Please have some don't wear them.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2003

The "failures" during Gulf I were usually not failures... they were simply a side effect of the design at the time.

Wow. Can I use that one?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:34 AM on April 4, 2003

An article from latest new scientist about how the military can get things wrong for various reasons.
Unfortunately can't get a link to another story concerning how some of the simple checks that should prevent patriots from being fired at coalition aircraft aren't working, including the statement that they're not supposed to be firing them at planes due to the total air domination the coalition currently enjoys. Basically suggests that the guys on the ground are so keen to get involved they're getting things wrong.
posted by biffa at 8:57 AM on April 4, 2003

The Patriot is a very capable system. The "failures" during Gulf I were usually not failures... they were simply a side effect of the design at the time.


A report from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Patriot's success rate might have been no better than 9 percent. A congressional report concluded that Patriots intercepted between zero and four of the estimated 45 Scuds fired by Iraq. In all, there were 158 Patriots fired during the first Gulf War.

As for this war,

For now, one problem is that military officials won't say how many Patriots had to be fired to down each Iraqi missile, citing "operational considerations." Samson suspects multiple Patriots are launched against each Iraqi missile.

"The only way to believe what they are saying is if they provide real data to show what they did," said Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Theodore Postol, a ballistic missile defense expert and a sharp critic of the Patriot.

Still unclear is how well the Patriot can hit Scuds. In the first Gulf War, Scuds spiraled in flight, making them difficult to track and intercept, Sampson said.

So far in this conflict, the Patriot has only taken on the al Samoud missile and the Ababil-100 that are easier to target. "They travel more slowly by a factor of two," Postol said. "They follow very predictable trajectories."

The new Patriot has never been tested against a Scud. And while it performed well in developmental testing, it "bombed" in operational testing last year, Samson said.

also, Patriot Games

Postol/Lewis Review of Army's Study on Patriot Effectiveness

The Patriot Missile. Performance in the Gulf War Reviewed
posted by y2karl at 12:04 AM on April 5, 2003

D'oh! Sorry about the repost of the Slate article. My bad...
posted by y2karl at 12:06 AM on April 5, 2003

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