The Bundeswehr is seeking a successor system to replace its ageing PATRIOT air defence systems. It must choose between a MEADS-based system and an evolved PATRIOT system for the Luftwaffe’s future TLVS Tactical Air Defence System. The German Chief of Staff is due to make a selection decision by mid-2015 at the latest. In the context of this selection decision, Raytheon is pushing hard for a “German Evolved PATRIOT”, tailored to meet the Luftwaffe’s requirements. According to the vendor, it can be available in half the time and at one third the cost compared to other systems. Above all, however, the evolved PATRIOT system is to have the 360-degree capability and open system architecture required by the Luftwaffe.
Costs for PATRIOT modernisation scarcely calculable
Consequently, Raytheon wants to modernise key elements of the German PATRIOT Config-3 systems, such as radar, software, command posts and vehicles, for the Bundeswehr. MEADS elements and the IRIS-T SL secondary missile are also to be integrated in the German Evolved PATRIOT. Military experts and many members of parliament consider this extremely risky, due to the closed system architecture of the PATRIOT system. This undertaking, they fear, is tantamount to development of a new system. Many of the innovations Raytheon is proposing currently exist only in the advertising material. Whether Raytheon is actually able to deliver significantly less expensively and twice as fast as other suppliers is thus highly disputed.
Members of the Parliamentary Defence Committee remain unconvinced as well. With regard to other projects in which similar promises were made, they say, “We’ve heard that often before. We know what that leads to.” Yet the 360-degree capability and the open system architecture that the German customer demands already exist in the competing MEADS system. Its functionality has already been successfully proven in a number of trials. Modernising the PATRIOT would mean developing – and paying for – capabilities that MEADS already has. Critics also note that, even after modification, the PATRIOT still won’t measure up to MEADS’ performance. For example, the PATRIOT apparently will not offer all-round 360-degree protection against ballistic missiles.
The problems in modernising the 40-year-old PATRIOT systems in the US appear to bear out the parliamentarians’ concerns. There, this air defence system has been an object of criticism for some time, due to exorbitant cost overruns and inadequate reliability. The US Army just recently suffered another significant setback. The Congressional committee responsible for overseeing the programme refused to approve the requested additional funding for modernising the US PATRIOT systems for the third time in a row. For fiscal year 2015 alone, this cut came to $95 million – making total cutbacks since 2013 now $180 million. The cost estimates have more than doubled in the last 12 months alone. They have been deemed virtually impossible to calculate and could continue to rise through 2018. According to the Congressional committee, there are no reliable figures, only a lot of question marks. The total modernisation cost was originally estimated at $2.2 billion. This figure does not even include procurement costs.
Additionally, there are major problems with the reliability of the PATRIOT system. According to a Pentagon report, the overall system and the radar do not perform up to the required standard. The capabilities of the PATRIOT systems are presently under discussion in Poland as well. Raytheon is offering the air defence system in Poland in the context of the Wisła modernisation programme, a commitment running into the billions. However, high-ranking Polish officers have now come to seriously doubt that PATRIOT is able to defend against modern Russian Iskandar short-range missiles (NATO code: SS-26 Stone). The Iskandar-M has a range of up to 500 kilometres. It can be armed with both conventional and nuclear warheads. The missile flies at several times the speed of sound, is highly agile and extremely manoeuvrable, so that it is extremely difficult to intercept using systems currently in service. Russia first deployed the Iskandar-M during the conflict in Georgia in 2008. The missiles are also said to be stationed in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
German Evolved PATRIOT – a risky choice?
The PATRIOT is currently deployed by 12 user nations. The system was originally developed back in the early 1970s. This guided-missile system went into service with the Luftwaffe in September 1989. The system made headlines during the two Gulf Wars in the early 1990s and 2000s. After PATRIOT batteries shot down several British fighter aircraft, it was found that the system had problems with friend/foe identification. Additionally, the PATRIOT showed only a limited capability in intercepting Iraqi Scud-B and Al Hussein short-range missiles. The guided-missile system was subsequently upgraded to fire Lockheed Martin PAC-3 CRI missiles, which entailed considerable technical effort and financial expense. The German systems are still unable to fire the high-performance PAC-3 MSE interceptor missile. Further funding would be necessary to enable use of the PAC-3 MSE missile with the PATRIOT system and take advantage of even a portion of its performance potential. The launchers would have to be modified at considerable expense. Additionally, the radar processors would have to be digitalised and the corresponding software modified. In recent years, over €500 million has been spent solely on modifications to the German system. In spite of these modifications, the PATRIOT remains expensive to operate. This is one of the reasons why the Luftwaffe reduced its contingent from 24 to 12 batteries.
At present, all 12 PATRIOT user nations are equipped with systems having a uniform system definition which follows the PATRIOT roadmap defined by the US Government. The US Government held, and continues to hold, system sovereignty. How the system definition will look in the long term for the international partners, however, is currently unclear. Still, experts are certain that the US variant and the international system definitions will diverge.
Already, Raytheon is now promoting three different PATRIOT upgrade versions:
- The US variant: the US plans to continue using the PATRIOT and integrate it in the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS). This will replace the PATRIOT combat management system (with its closed system architecture) using Northrop Grumman’s IBCS solution (with an open system architecture, like MEADS). In full possession of the technical facts, the American customer has decided against Raytheon’s proposal to further develop the PATRIOT combat management system. The future modern IBCS configuration will be reserved solely for US forces, and will not be exported.
- The export variant: this is intended for the existing PATRIOT export market. To date, the only improvement in the export variant is a digitalisation of some components in the PATRIOT weapon system. This version is in service in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The development was mainly financed by the UAE. However, this variant does not have an open system architecture, as it cannot be fully networked with other air defence systems. Therefore, this solution does not meet the German requirements.
- The proposed German variant, German Evolved PATRIOT: at present, this version exists only on paper. It has been customised specifically for the German customer. This variant is also equipped with a C-band radar with an active phased array antenna. In view of the changes to the radar, this variant is de facto a new development. The German Evolved PATRIOT would be a variant that does not yet exist on the market in this form. Key components and technologies would first have to be developed from scratch and tested. It differs considerably from the American and the current export versions. With respect to the other PATRIOT variants, it represents an isolated solution. Ongoing development and use of a German PATRIOT would have to be financed by the Bundeswehr alone. A cost-sharing with other PATRIOT user nations is not assured. Furthermore, a German Evolved PATRIOT does not conform to the IBCS roadmap defined by the United States.
Germany is currently conducting a review to determine whether the MEADS-based air defence system or a PATRIOT system developed especially for Germany is to be chosen. The two solutions were also the subject of an expert assessment conducted by the consultancy KPMG, the engineering firm P3 and the legal firm of Taylor Wessing. Defence Minister von der Leyen commissioned these consultancies to review key defence projects at the start of the year. The consultants used the results of their analyses to formulate recommendations for individual defence projects and for defence project management.
According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, this study also gave rise to a number of questions with respect to the further development of ground-based air defence systems in general. These questions need to be resolved before a final decision is taken. The cost overruns and performance shortfalls in the PATRIOT system that have come to light in the US have gained public attention in Germany and Poland. For Germany, the German Evolved PATRIOT entails incalculable risks. Many questions remain regarding the technical feasibility and the burden on the taxpayer. In view of the lack of funding for a PATRIOT modernisation in the US and the resulting lack of future prospects, there is the increasing suspicion that foreign investors are being sought for PATRIOT – in spite of the fact that most of the work will still be performed in the US and that the American “black box” policy will cement the dependency of PATRIOT users for decades to come. (Rüdiger Hulin, Newsletter Verteidigung – 1/20/2015)