Israel to retire four Patriot PAC-2s as defense strategy shifts

In the coming months, the Israeli Air Force is set to retire all of its Patriot batteries. The armed forces have officially confirmed this, indicating that the disarmament process will be completed within the next eight weeks, or by the end of June, according to Defense Express

Patriot destroyed missile using target designation provided by F-35
Photo by US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Debbie Lockhart

The reasons behind this decision to retire the air defense system include its obsolescence, low efficiency, and maintenance challenges. Surprisingly, these drawbacks are tied to the Patriot system, at least from Israel’s perspective. This may be because Israel currently operates four Patriot batteries, all PAC 2 versions, as of 2023.

The Patriot batteries were acquired at a bargain price by Israel back in 1990, courtesy of the US arms aid program. However, since their acquisition, these systems haven’t been upgraded to the PAC 3 level, which includes the ability to intercept ballistic targets. They remain at the MIM-104D [PAC-2/GEM+] stage.

Only 19 targets downed

The Israel Defense Forces [IDF] have officially stated that their Patriot Surface to Air Missiles [SAMs] have successfully intercepted a total of 19 targets during their operational period, with the first real combat use recorded in 2014 when a drone was neutralized. It should be noted that all subsequent targets intercepted were similarly unmanned drones.  

Given Israel’s current situation, which is devoid of concrete threats from enemy-manned aircraft, it is indeed conceivable that retaining the Patriot may not be necessary. Furthermore, the urge to upgrade to a PAC 3 version does not exist, as it would imply the requirement for an MSE missile.  

Israel possesses its own comparable anti-missile defense arsenal known as “David’s Sling”, which boasts superior features and employs a much more potent and cost-effective Stunner missile. Interestingly, this missile is integrated into the new Patriot PAAC-4 version, known as the SkyCeptor. Furthering this transition, personnel originally trained on the Patriot are now actively shifting their expertise to other missile systems, including the Iron Dome. This transformation began earlier this year, in February.

THAAD successfully fired Patriot's PAC-3 MSE missile using AN/TPY-2
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Storage in Ukraine?

Experts from Ukraine suggest that the possibility of Israel transferring “extra” Patriots to Ukraine seems improbable. They contend that Israel is not only refraining from providing aid but is also subtly obstructing the re-export of weaponry. Given these circumstances, the most plausible alternative appears to be that the US would purchase these Surface-to-Air Missiles [SAMs] and conduct an intricate exchange transaction. 

In a potential scenario, Washington could upgrade these four batteries, freeing some of its own resources. Alternatively, if Washington is averse to this proposal, the SAMs could be redirected to Spain or Greece. These countries could then transfer their own versions of PAC 2, already in use, to Ukraine. 

However, this entire plan relies on Israel’s consent. It’s critical to note that Greece has currently expressed its unwillingness to transfer its Patriots, and Spain has agreed to provide only missiles. As of now, only Germany has pledged to immediately transfer a Patriot anti-aircraft system to Ukraine.

Understanding PAC-2 and MIM-104

Let’s discuss the Patriot PAC-2, often simply referred to as PAC-2. It is a notable enhancement on the initial MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system. Compared to its predecessor, the PAC-2 missile has grown in size and weight. Particularly noteworthy is its blast-fragmentation warhead, designed to eliminate incoming missiles by detonating nearby and attacking them with shrapnel — a departure from the former model’s somewhat reckless hit-to-kill approach. 

Turning to its advanced technology, the PAC-2’s radar system has seen a significant upgrade. It now employs a passive electronically scanned array radar, delivering an enhanced field of view and superior target-tracking capabilities. These improvements allow it to confront multiple threats concurrently — a functionality that the original MIM-104 lacked. 

Romania is Preparing to Buy a US Missile Defense System for USD 3.9 Billion
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Another clear shift from its predecessor is the PAC-2’s introduction of the state-of-the-art Track Via Missile [TVM] guidance system. This innovative tracking system allows the missile to receive updates from a ground station whilst in flight, bolstering its precision and offering it the ability to make pivotal mid-course amendments — a true progression from the MIM-104, wouldn’t you agree?

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