Improved Patriot PAC-3 Scores Another Hit

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PAC-3, PAC-3 MSE and THAAD lined up on a Lockheed Martin air-defense missile display at AUSA 2009. Photo: Defense-Update

Lockheed Martin conducted a second successful intercept of a threat representative tactical ballistic missile target using the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The first intercept conducted by PAC-3 MSE was performed in February 2010. “We continue to test the PAC-3 MSE Missile at higher altitudes and against more challenging targets, and it continues to meet expectations,” said Richard McDaniel, director of PAC-3 Missile Programs at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “We look forward to delivering this important enhanced capability to the warfighter in the near future.”

The PAC-3 MSE Missile provides increased performance, greater altitude and range than the PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative (CRI) Missile. The PAC-3 MSE Missile variant incorporates threat-driven and technology-enabled hardware and software upgrades to defend against the advancing threat set. The PAC-3 Missile is the only Patriot missile that utilizes hit-to-kill technology to engage incoming targets.

The Patriot missile launcher was originally designed to carry four missiles on each launcher. The PAC-3 missile, being much shorter and thinner than the original missile, packs four missile canisters for each slot. The larger MSE is packaged again in a single canister that stacks on the Patriot launcher, to provide flexibility for the Patriot or Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) launcher load-out requirements. Therefore, each launcher can carry a mix of PAC-3 and PAC-3 MSE missiles.

The PAC-3 MSE Missile was selected as the primary interceptor for the multi-national MEADS in September 2006, operating along with the German Diehl BGT IRIS-T SL (Surface Launched) as a secondary MEADS missile for the German fire units. The MEADS program completed Critical Design Review in 2010 and is now integrating and testing the radars, launchers, tactical operation centers and reloaders needed for system tests at White Sands Missile Range in 2012. However, the MEADS program being US$0.7 Billion over budget and 1.5 years behind schedule provided the U.S. and German governments to pull back from further investing in the acquisition phase, suspending MEADS at the current development phase, due for completion by 2013.

58 percent of the MEADS development program is funded by the United States, 25 percent by Germany, and 17 percent by Italy.

Cancellation of MEADS is not expected to represent a total loss for the U.S., as MSE could become a future replacement for current Patriot units. Lockheed Martin is also offering the missile as an air-launched boost-phase interceptor, carried by F-15C, F-22 and F-35 fighters as well as a sea-based hit-to-kill terminal defense system, although the U.S. is currently committed to seaand land based SM-3 as its primary missile interceptor. According to Aviation Week, Lockheed proposed the air-launched MSE would be housed inside a pod under the wing of an F-15C. Upon launch, a clamshell door on the pod would open, the weapon would drop and ignite, engaging the target. Intercepting a boosting ballistic missile is generally easier because the target is traveling in a straighter trajectory and is slower than in the terminal phase.