Ukraine fired 6% of PAC-3 annual production in 120 seconds
The Russian air missile attack in the early morning of May 16 against Kyiv opens another topic for discussion. According to claims on the web, the Ukrainian MIM-104 Patriot fired 30 interceptor missiles.
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If we leave spent at least $120 million in this two-minute defense, the question should be put from another point of view. Namely, the number of interceptors fired.
According to official data from Lockheed Martin published in 2022, the company annually produces about 500 PAC-3 missiles. I.e. Kyiv fired six percent of its annual production of interceptor missiles in two minutes [120 seconds] over Kyiv before the system was damaged.
Lockheed Martin reached full-rate production of the PAC-3 MSE missile only in 2018, although production of the missile dates back to at least 2014. One year later, that is. In 2019, the Pentagon decided to assign Lockheed Martin to increase production. It was in 2019 that the decision was made to produce 500 PC-3 MSEs each year.
Experts know that the Patriot’s interception principle is slightly different than, say, Israel’s Iron Dome. To intercept and destroy one missile, the Patriot fires two interceptors. Also unlike Iron Dome, the Patriot’s interceptors operate on the principle of direct body-to-body contact. This is a much more difficult interception than the Iron Dome, where the Israeli missile self-detonates when it aligns with the enemy missile.
Perhaps direct body-to-body contact is one of the reasons why the Patriot is not so successful. The 30 missiles fired on May 16 over Kyiv indicate that the system was engaged with at least a minimum of 15 air targets. In addition to video footage of the attack, evidence of the intense airstrike is the expert opinions of some experts who say the Patriot was attacked by a variety of attack vectors.
It is the direct body-to-body contact of the interceptor that casts deep doubt on the ability of the PAC-3 SME to make contact with a hypersonic missile. But at the same time, if Kyiv’s claims that they shot down six Kinzhal missiles are confirmed [so far there is no evidence of this], it casts doubt on Moscow’s claim that the Kinzhal is a hypersonic missile.
Since the beginning of the war, we have witnessed that the Ukrainian armed forces are straining the intensity of the weapons provided to them by the West. There are reports of this, especially among self-propelled artillery systems, such as the American M109, the French Caesar, the German PzH 2000, and others.
May 16th also saw a busy Patriot workload. This leads us to several questions: is a Patriot stationed near Kyiv; are there other air defense systems in the area [NASAMS, IRIS-T]; were they used to cover the attack, etc.
If Kyiv relies on one Patriot, and the other air defense systems [if any in the area] are not involved in covering the Russian air missile attack, this will be a serious problem not only for Ukraine but also for the production capabilities of the United States, which will reflect the Patriot operators.
For example, currently, in addition to the USA and Ukraine, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Poland, Qatar, Romania, and Sweden are PAC-3 MSE operators. The standard equipment of a Patriot battery includes eight launchers, which can hold up to four missile interceptors each. I.e. one battery can fire 24 rockets.
336 interceptors are in at least one Patriot battery in each of the countries we mentioned. But this is only on the condition that each side has one battery. And this is not the case, as their number exceeds 100. There are 1,106 launchers in the US alone, and another 172 are exported abroad.
According to open-access sources, at least 100 interceptors are used annually [excluding Ukraine] around the globe during joint or national live-fire exercises.
24 hours after the Patriot launched 30 missiles, the Pentagon officially announced that despite the large number of missiles fired from Kyiv, there is a sufficient supply of them around the world. But this information takes on a different look once we know the annual production of PAC-3 SMEs and operators in the world. By all accounts, the US with its 1,106 launchers has a large stockpile of these missiles.
According to open-source data, at least 10,000 missiles have been produced since 1969. There is no word on the number of active missiles out of these 10,000.
Weighing six percent already seems like a pretty big number. They also show something else – it is not certain that only two or four Patriot batteries will be able to cope with Russian missile attacks. It’s not about interception capability, it’s about total ammunition depletion and exhaustion. After similar data from May 16, the euphoria is waning, and it seems that this particular attack on Kyiv shows how far Ukraine is from regaining control of its skies.
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