PAC-3 Production to Continue Despite Program Shortcomings

July/August 2002

By Wade Boese

Despite failures in each of its last four intercept tests, production and deployment of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile defense system should continue, a senior Pentagon official said June 20.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, who oversees U.S. missile defense programs, expressed disappointment that PAC-3 had fallen short of expectations in recent testing but recommended that U.S. deployment of the ground-based, tactical missile defense system not be halted. “We ought to proceed putting that weapons system in the field as soon as we possibly can,” the general stated in a public briefing.

Kadish urged continued deployment of PAC-3, which is designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft, because the United States has “no capability out there today that is the equivalent of the Patriot-3.”

The Army announced last year that it had PAC-3 missiles ready for deployment, and now more than 20 are stockpiled for use. Low-rate production of the system is ongoing, and a PAC-3 program official said, “We do not anticipate a break in production.”

Kadish stated that fixing the problems revealed by the recent testing, which he said were “not severe,” and continuing production and deployment could be done together. “The decision on Patriot is to work out the difficulties we found and improve the system over time and build as much as we can afford in the process,” Kadish said.

After missing only one of 10 targets in developmental testing, the PAC-3 system experienced problems in every operational test conducted between February and May. In operational testing, actual soldiers participate in testing the system under more realistic battlefield scenarios than those conducted by contractor personnel in developmental testing.

Three of the four operational tests involved simultaneously launching multiple Patriot missiles, both PAC-3 and the earlier PAC-2 versions, at multiple targets. The final test called for two PAC-3 missiles to be fired automatically in quick succession against a single target.

A PAC-3 interceptor missed its target in the first test, and in each of the last three tests a PAC-3 missile failed to launch as planned. In sum, PAC-3 missiles destroyed two of the five targets assigned them. One PAC-3 missile hit its target but did not destroy it.

Each test failure resulted from a different problem, according to the Pentagon, although analysis of the last failure is still underway. In one test, for example, the missile received an inaccurate cue from a ground-based computer, but in another, the PAC-3 missile launcher lost power during the firing sequence.

The PAC-3 program official downplayed the test failures, claiming none “indicate a systemic problem with the PAC-3 missile or with PAC-3 ground equipment.” For his part, Kadish acknowledged, “We got some bugs in the system we’ve got to work out,” but he expressed confidence that the problems will be fixed.

No future PAC-3 test is currently scheduled, although additional testing is expected.

Pentagon officials were scheduled to make a decision on whether to accelerate PAC-3 production this September from low-rate to full-rate production, but Kadish implied that would not happen, saying the Pentagon does not “necessarily know at this point what full-rate production ought to be.” Instead, Kadish said, “We intend to build at a low rate or a rate that we can afford at this point in time.”

The Army’s declared inventory objective is at least 2,200 PAC-3 missiles, but Kadish testified at an April 17 hearing of the Senate Appropriation Committee’s defense subcommittee that he thought that figure would be adjusted over time.