The United States has recently sent a shipment of weapons to Ukraine, including Patriot air defense systems and JDAM smart bomb kits to convert unguided bombs into GPS-guided bombs. The shipment also includes more GMLRS guided rockets and Excalibur GPS guided 155mm artillery shells. There are also more HARM anti-radar missiles, HIMARS launcher vehicles, Cougar MRAPS, and armored Humvees.
Patriot air defense systems have been in service since 1984 and experienced their first sustained combat in 1990, during the Gulf War. They were used against Iraqi SCUD ballistic missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia, but their success rate was only mediocre, between 40-70%. This was largely due to the improvised modifications Iraqis made to their SCUDs to extend their range, which caused them to fall apart during the terminal flight phase and create unintended countermeasures. Some of the larger pieces of these modified SCUDs, like additional fuel tanks, broke away and were seen by Patriot radar as the actual missile warhead section. In some cases, non-warhead portions (like the fuel tanks carrying very toxic fuel) of the SCUD came down on military or civilian personnel on the ground. Subsequent upgrades to Patriot have increased its accuracy against deliberate or accidental countermeasures.
Patriot systems have also been used against UAVs, but firing a missile costing over three million dollars at homemade UAVs is not a cost-effective solution. As a result, Israel has developed cheaper solutions for defending against UAVs. Although initially designed to be used against manned aircraft, Patriot systems have not faced this threat very often. It was not until 2014 when a Patriot system shot down a Syrian Su-24 fighter-bomber. Most of what Patriot systems have shot down have been ballistic missiles, either SCUDs or more recent Iranian designs. The UAE sent a battery to Yemen where it successfully defended major military bases from Iranian ballistic missile attacks. Arab Patriot users have developed a lot of missile crews with combat experience, which has helped attract capable recruits to air defense work.
Since 1970, over 10,000 Patriot missiles and 1,500 launchers have been produced. After decades of service, some were updated while others were scrapped. Patriot missiles can, with regular upgrades and refurbishment, remain in use for over 40 years. A growing number of Patriot missiles are doing just that, but many are still fired each year for training and testing. Most Patriot batteries are equipped with both longer-range GEM-T missiles for aircraft and shorter-range PAC-3 MSE ones for ballistic missiles or, if necessary, aircraft. The PAC 2 is older, cheaper and designed to intercept manned aircraft at ranges up to 160 kilometers, while the PAC 3 is the newest and about twice as expensive (over $4 million). The Patriot system, with continued upgrades, will likely remain in production until the 2040s.
Each Patriot battery is manned by about a hundred troops and contains a radar, plus four or more launchers. The launcher is designed to use both the smaller PAC 3 missile as well as the original and larger PAC 2 anti-aircraft version. A Patriot launcher can hold sixteen PAC 3 missiles versus four PAC 2s. A PAC 2 missile weighs about a ton, while a PAC 3 weighs about a third of that. The PAC 3 has a shorter range, originally 20 kilometers but the latest version can reach 35 kilometers. The larger PAC-2 can reach 160 kilometers.
It is not mentioned how many Patriot missiles were included in the recent shipment to Ukraine, or how long it will take to train Ukrainian crews to operate them. However, Ukraine has pointed out that it will take less time to train their personnel due to the ongoing war in the country and the need for expedited training. It is also unclear how the Patriot systems will be integrated into Ukraine’s existing defense capabilities.
In addition to the Patriot systems, the shipment to Ukraine also includes JDAM smart bomb kits, which convert unguided bombs into GPS-guided bombs. These kits provide a more precise method of delivering munitions and have been used by the United States in various conflicts. The shipment also includes more GMLRS guided rockets, which are a type of long-range artillery rocket that uses GPS guidance to accurately deliver a variety of payloads to a target. The Excalibur GPS guided 155mm artillery shells, which also use GPS guidance to provide precise strike capabilities, are also included in the shipment.
The shipment also includes more HARM anti-radar missiles, which are used to target and destroy enemy radar systems. The HIMARS launcher vehicles, which are used to launch a variety of rockets and missiles, are also part of the shipment. The Cougar MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) and armored Humvees provide additional armored protection for troops on the ground.
Overall, the shipment to Ukraine includes a range of advanced weapons systems that can improve the country’s defense capabilities. It is not specified how these systems will be used by Ukraine or how they will be integrated into the country’s existing defense strategy.