In Defense of the Patriot Missile
Scott Peterson's article, "High Hopes for Foolproof Missile Defenses Fizzle," (July 30), from the first of a two-part series, misses the mark. On a strategic level, the article, on tactical ballistic missile defense (TBMD), fails to recognize fundamental changes in the international security environment over the past decade, their impact on regional stability, and the need for a stronger emphasis on defense.
The end of the cold war and the shift from bilateral to multilateral security arrangements created greater independence among the so-called rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It also increased China's potential for regional hegemony. The ramifications of regional instability in East Asia and the Middle East are enormous, especially given the proliferation of longer-range, lethal tactical ballistic missiles.
The consequences of such increased threats, and the fact that deterrence and arms-control measures alone may be insufficient to counter them, is widely recognized. This is why both the Bush and Clinton administrations, as well as the governments of countries that live under the threat of a TBM attack - Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Japan, the Republic of China, and South Korea - have placed increasing priority on tactical ballistic missile defense.
Some of the "facts" in the article also are wrong or misleading, particularly regarding the Patriot and Arrow TBMD systems. The author seems to have relied heavily on the opinions of Reuven Pedatzur, an Israeli political scientist and Air Force Reserve pilot. Mr. Pedatzur's political opposition to ballistic missile defense in general, and the Patriot and Arrow in particular, are well known.
The author describes Pedatzur as a "missile expert." Yet even Pedatzur claims no particular expertise in missile defense. He has been outspoken in his belief that Israel's survival depends on its ability to inflict unacceptable punishment on potential enemies, arguing for investment in offensive deterrence rather than defense. Peterson says Pedatzur testified to Congress that there was "no evidence" that Patriots hit a single Scud. Yet he fails to report that Pedatzur's views were rebutted by the Israeli general officers most familiar with what happened - the Air Force chief of staff and the general in charge of Air Defense Forces at the time.
The article also incorrectly states that it is a Raytheon "claim" that the Patriot success rates during the Gulf war were over 70 percent in Saudi Arabia and 40 percent in Israel. These are neither claims nor figures generated by Raytheon. Rather, they are the official assessments of the US Army (with which Raytheon agrees) after months of data gathering, review, and documentation. The success rates are remarkable, given that Patriot at the time was not designed for the mission it performed in the Gulf and had less-than-optimal operational conditions in Israel. One thing is clear: The Patriot worked. It saved countless lives, and it remains the world's only combat-proven tactical missile defense system.
There was no "embarrassing series" of US General Accounting Office studies, as Peterson contends. There were exactly two. One, which examined highly technical warhead-kill criteria, did not contradict the US Army's findings of 70 and 40 percent overall Patriot success rates in Saudi Arabia and Israel respectively. The second GAO study examined the use of video evidence as a means of determining intercept success, as some Patriot critics have done, concluding that it was not a reliable method.
The Israeli Arrow program did not result from Israel's disappointment with Patriot. It was initiated well before the Gulf war to provide a high-altitude, wide-area TBMD to complement the lower-tier defense provided by Israeli Patriots. Indeed, since the war, Israel has requested three additional Patriot batteries - hardly an act of a "disappointed" government.
Peterson says the Army last year found Patriot to be "operationally unacceptable" after some $1.5 billion in improvements. This scrambles the facts. Patriot remains our nation's only operational TBMD system and the only system in the world to be upgraded as a result of real war-fighting experience. The $1.5 billion figure represents improvements to the Patriot's radar, control station, communications, software, and a new PAC-3 missile. The PAC-3 missile was the result of a competition between two new missiles, one of which was found to be "operationally unacceptable" in comparison with the missile ultimately selected for the specific TBM threat against which it had been designed. Not only is Patriot operationally acceptable, it is the foundation of the US Army's entire air and missile defense systems.
C. Dale Reis
Senior vice president
Writer's response: Two paragraphs on the $1.5 billion US Army improvements to the Patriot system were inadvertently struck from the story during editing. They made clear that it was only the Raytheon missile that was deemed "operationally unacceptable" for Army requirements. It has been replaced by the Erint rocket (now called PAC-3) made by Loral Vought Systems.
The rest of Raytheon's Patriot system today has improved software, bigger computers, enhanced radar that extends the Patriot "footprint," and with the PAC-3 has longer-range missiles with better guidance systems and more lethal warheads.
Unlike earlier Patriot versions used during the Gulf war, this "improved" Patriot is designed to discern between warheads, decoys, and debris, and forms the backbone of the US Army tactical missile defense.