With the prospect of another war with Iraq looming, a top Pentagon official approved a decision December 2 to accelerate acquisition of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles. As a result, the Army is projected to receive a total of 238 PAC-3 missiles, as opposed to 179, by the end of 2004.
Edward Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, signed the order authorizing the Pentagon to speed up production of PAC-3 missiles, which are designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles by colliding with them. By the end of 2002, the Army had received 53 PAC-3s for deployment.
The order, called an acquisition decision memorandum, also directed the Army to prepare a plan for taking over responsibility of the PAC-3 program from the Missile Defense Agency, which oversees U.S. missile defense research and development. Congress has blocked earlier attempts to transfer the program.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz foreshadowed the PAC-3 procurement decision in an October 24 speech. “We are looking at ways to accelerate the production of PAC-3 out of concern for near-term vulnerability,” he said. A week later, a group of senior Pentagon officials involved in procurement decisions arrived at an initial agreement to quicken PAC-3 production.
The PAC-3 performed well in early developmental testing, striking nine out of 10 targets, but in four operational tests involving multiple interceptors and targets conducted from February through May 2002, the PAC-3 system did not do nearly as well. Out of seven PAC-3 missiles to be fired, just two destroyed their targets, while three did not even launch. Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said December 17, “We know why [the PAC-3s] missed, and we will fix those.”
Top Pentagon officials have maintained that the PAC-3 is ready for deployment, and the Pentagon identified the PAC-3 as part of the initial missile defense capabilities the United States plans to field in 2004 and 2005. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) The next PAC-3 test is tentatively scheduled for this coming summer.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon deployed an early version of the Patriot missile to protect Israel and U.S.-led coalition forces from Iraqi Scud missile attacks. Despite initial claims of success, later analysis revealed that Patriots intercepted few if any Scuds.