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Asia-Pacific , Middle East , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

American Missile Defenses' Repeated Combat Failures; Implications for East Asia and the Middle East - Part One

May 26th - 2018

Image Credit : Raytheon

Amid a concerted 35 month military campaign by Saudi Arabia and several of its allies in Yemen, their adversaries the Yemeni Ansurallah Coalition in December 2017 launched a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital Riyadh. The official story as reported by both Saudi and the majority of Western media was that the Arab kingdom's American made air defence systems, Patriot missile batteries, successfully intercepted the missile and prevented what otherwise would have been a disaster. The following day U.S. President Trump announced victoriously: “Our system knocked the missile out of the air. That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” The timing could not have been better, considering that the President's statement was made from Air Force One en route to Japan as part of his East Asia tour.

The U.S. had repeatedly threatened preventative military strikes on North Korea, which would ignite a war in East Asia on a scale unseen since 1945 and very likely surpass even the carnage of the Pacific War. In such a conflict both Japan and South Korea's major population and industrial centres would be subject to retaliatory strikes by tens of thousands of ballistic missiles - modern platforms decades in advance of anything in Yemeni hands. The United States has asked these countries to put a great deal of faith in the very same U.S. made air defence systems deployed to Saudi Arabia. While U.S. actions on the Korean Peninsula threaten to ignite a war that would bring ruin to its two East Asian partners, the Patriot and other systems like it are effectively the only security guarantee America can provide. A reported successful interception in the Middle East by these very same missile systems thus came at an ideal time for President Trump and his delegation.

While the Patriot was reported to have successfully intercepted the Yemeni missile, a relatively primitive platform using technology from the early 1980s, it would hardly be the first time that a near complete failure of the U.S. air defence system was reported as a victory and great success. The Patriot Missile system's most prolific combat test, after which it was labeled a 'miracle system' by U.S. officials, was during the 1991 Gulf War when the weapons system was relied on to intercept Soviet made Iraqi Scud-B missiles - antiquated systems by modern standards operated with questionable skill. The United States government claimed that the Patriot Missile defence system had an effectiveness of 80% when targeting Iraqi Scud missiles, while the system's manufacturer Raytheon claimed a 97% success rate. The facts on the ground however indicate that these estimates were far too generous towards the Patriot despite the primitive nature of Iraq’s limited missile capabilities and the relatively small size of their arsenal.

The Scud-B entered service in 1964, and lacked any form of countermeasures to evade a modern missile defence systems. They should have been very basic targets for the Patriot system - a platform designed decades later to counter far more sophisticated threats from platforms such as the Korean Rodong-1 and Soviet OTR-21 Tochka. Nevertheless the American House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security themselves reported on government coverage of the Patriot Missile defence and its capabilities: “The Patriot missile system was not the spectacular success in the Persian Gulf War that the American public was led to believe. There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War, and there are some doubts about even these engagements. The public and the Congress were misled by definitive statements of success issued by administration and Raytheon representatives during and after the war.”

Continued in Part Two 


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