Patriot missile defense system consisting of radars, command-and-control technology and multiple types of interceptors remains fixtures among the U.S. Army’s top priorities.
According to a statement released by Army News Service, the Army’s Patriot Air Defense battalions are upgrading their fire-control computers, communications, radars and operator interfaces while adding more capable missiles in a refit that is scheduled to continue through 2021.
“Right now we’re conducting the most significant Patriot modernization since the early 1990s,” said Col. Mark A. Holler, commandant of the Air Defense Artillery School at Fort Sill.
Patriot is Raytheon-made combat-proven missile defense system developed to detect, identify and defeat tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones, advanced aircraft and other threats.
Since it was first fielded, Raytheon’s Patriot has been used by five nations in more than 250 combat engagements against manned and unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles. Since January of 2015, Patriot has intercepted more than 150 ballistic missiles in combat operations around the world; more than 90 of those intercepts involved the low-cost Raytheon-made Guidance Enhanced Missile family of surface-to-air missiles.
About 25 years ago, units began receiving Patriot Advanced Capability 3 — or PAC-3 — missiles combined with an overhaul to command and control systems and related software.
Upgrading again, the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement — or MSE missiles — fielded a few years ago brought extended range and more maneuverability due to a more powerful rocket motor and larger fins. However, radar limitations prevented utilizing PAC-3 MSE missiles to their full capability.
Now Patriot units are undergoing a system-wide upgrade, to include radar improvements that will enable them to use the full capability of the PAC-3 MSE missile.
An upgrade called Post-Deployment Build 8, or PDB8, is providing Patriot units with a more capable radar by transitioning from analog to digital processing.
“It’s really a depot-level rebuild of much of the components of the Patriot System,” Holler said.
The internal components of the Patriot radar went from analog “70s- and 80s-based circuit-card technology to digital processing”, he said.
The AN/MPQ-65 radar for Patriot became AN/MPQ-65A with about 30% additional range and increased processing speed.
“It also gives that radar a lot more reliability,” Holler said.
The new upgraded radar should also be cheaper to operate, he said, “because you’re not replacing so many parts.” In addition, he said it will be more survivable against an electronic attack.
Nine of the Army’s 15 Patriot battalions have already undergone the upgrade.
Under PDB8, equipment is often replaced when a unit returns from deployment. However, some battalions have upgraded equipment while still overseas, as Holler did with 2nd Battalion of the 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment and 6th Battalion of the 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment when he commanded the 35th ADA Brigade in South Korea.
Those battalions were the first to undergo the PDB8 upgrade, which began in 2017.
“We brought some equipment from the States and from outside Korea to maintain that ‘fight tonight’ readiness mission,” Holler said, “while we took two batteries at a time offline and upgraded them.”
The same type of forward upgrade of equipment was completed for a Patriot battalion in Germany. In Japan, a Patriot battalion did a one-for-one exchange. It sent equipment back to the States and received modernized equipment in return. The battalion in Japan also received some of its newer equipment as systems redeployed from the Central Command area of responsibility, Holler added.
The next unit to be upgraded is the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Air Defense Artillery, which recently returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, from its deployment to the United Arab Emirates. The unit is scheduled to undergo recapitalization in fiscal year 2020 and its equipment is already being upgraded at Letterkenny Army Depot in Pennsylvania.
Patriot units are also upgrading their operator interfaces from analog to digital technology.
The operator interfaces in a Patriot fire unit are manned by three operators. The interfaces have two consoles, including a digital weapon control computer, and three radio relay terminals.
“We updated the communications relays and fire-control computers,” Holler said.
New digital display consoles replaced old cathode-ray tubes that had been in the system for over 50 years. The modern color consoles enhance operator situational awareness, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Eric D. Maule, chief warrant officer of the Air Defense Branch. He said these improved operator interfaces are stepping-stones that enable future efforts like Warfighter to Machine Interface, a planned upgrade that will provide 3D displays and fully modernized and customizable Graphical User Interfaces.
Another upgrade is the Combined Crypto Modernization Phase 1 which provides routers and connections at the operator interface consoles that allow both classified and unclassified internet to be available at the Patriot tactical site. It also provides Beyond Line of Sight capability with the Patriot Data Information Link, known as PADIL, allowing units to separate and maintain connectivity.
Before PDB8, Maule said it was difficult for the Patriot system to recognize if it had been affected by Advanced Electronic Countermeasures, or AECM, which could result in false tracks and firing on false targets. PDB8 AECM mitigation now uses advanced algorithms to determine AECM attack patterns and remove false tracks from the operator scope, he said.
Non-cooperative target recognition, or NCTR, is being added to the system. Operators can now request additional combat identification information about the target and Maule said “This will help prevent fratricide”.
“Full Mode 5 Integration provides aircraft position data and provides more identification certainty when looking at aircraft that are closely spaced together”, CW5 Maule said.
“The overall achievement by doing this upgrade is we maximize our search ability and we maximize the capability of the MSE interceptor,” Holler said.
“It’s been a big success story,” he added about the Patriot upgrades.