Once again, the Patriot missile system seems to disappoint and fall short of its intended purpose- this time, in a literal and very deadly sense.
In March, Saudi-owned Patriot Surface to Air Missile batteries were deployed to defend the Riyadh area against rockets launched by Houthi Rebels, intent on causing some damage.
اعتراض صاروخا بالرياض pic.twitter.com/ImUTIV97Xf
— الطقس في الرياض (@Riyadh_sky_ksa) March 25, 2018
While the Saudi government reported that all the enemy projectiles were eliminated, video footage from the ground showed several failures on the part of Patriot batteries, including exploding shortly after launch and even veering back toward friendly positions, killing civilians in a residential area.
— بدر بن طلال الرشيد (@bintalal82) March 25, 2018
From its trial by fire in the 1991 Persian Gulf War to modern times, the Patriot has been riddled with problems, malfunctions and deadly failures, many of them taking place on Saudi Soil.
“It’s nothing but an unbroken trail of disasters with this weapon system,” MIT physicist Theodore Postol said in a March statement to Vice Media’s Motherboard. “In the Gulf War of 1991, we definitely saw Patriots take off, turn around and dive to ground in both Saudi Arabia and in Israel.”
Prematurely hailed as a success in defending coalition troops from Iraqi SCUD missiles and aircraft, the first case of it actually firing was because of a computer glitch, firing at nothing in particular as it streaked across the desert sky. Despite this, incident was widely misreported as the first successful interception of an enemy ballistic missile in history.
Later, the missile failed to shot down SCUDs aimed at the Dharan barracks, killing 28 soldiers. An internal investigation revealed that a software error caused the internal clock of the system to be off by one-third of a second, causing a miss distance of 600 meters. Other incidents -including one in Australia- point to software being the Achilles’ Heel of the system- bad news for arguably the most technologically superior military on Earth.
As time went on, the Patriot battery took on another, more sinister reputation- killer of friendly troops.
In 2003 alone, the Patriot missile battery shot down two friendly planes- a US Navy F/A-18 Hornet and a Royal Air Force Tornado, killing all aircrews involved. In one incident, a US Air Force F-16 found itself being targeted by a Patriot battery and fired two anti-radiation missiles in self-defense.
At one point, some American pilots were nonchalant about their distrust of the Patriot.
“Those guys were locking us up on a regular basis,” one F-16 pilot said. “No one was hurt when the Patriot was hit, thank God, but from our perspective they’re now down one radar. That’s one radar they can’t target us with any more.”
While the Israelis have had success downing small drones with the system (arguably a little bit of overkill), the Patriot remains controversial, even for the US- who arguably depends on the system to help combat everything from enemy aircraft to nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
Having had little in the way of peer adversaries for the past two decades, the United States has a weak spot in terms of air defense- and the overwhelming trust they’ve placed in an unreliable system for around thirty years might very well be their downfall in that regard.
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