Army Searches for Cause of Failures in Patriot Missiles : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Mar 24, 2000 - 06:04 AM

Army Searches for Cause of Failures in Patriot Missiles

By Robert Burns

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Army says it cannot predict how long it will take to find the cause of a Patriot missile glitch that prompted it to hurriedly replace hundreds of them in the Mideast and South Korea.

The Patriot, which gained fame in 1991 in its combat debut against Iraqi Scud missiles fired on Saudi Arabia and Israel, is a key to the defense of U.S. and allied forces in the Gulf and on the Korean Peninsula. Patriots in the Gulf and in South Korea are kept on high alert because of short warning times. Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, a senior Army acquisitions officer, said Thursday that the decision to quietly replace the missiles with newer ones was made about 10 days ago and the swap-out was completed Tuesday. "We think we have a pretty good handle on the components that are failing, but we have not confirmed the cause of that yet," he said.

None of the seven foreign countries that operate U.S.-made Patriot missile batteries was told about the problem until this week, Kern said. "I don't think any of them are angry about the situation," he said. "They are concerned, probably, the same as we are, that we find solutions to the problem."

Asked why Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan and Taiwan were not told about the possible vulnerability of their Patriot missiles, Kern replied: "We did what we thought was a very fair assessment of keeping the security of our forces and or allies in check, and we think we did it the right way."

The technical problem, as described by Kern, appears related to the way in which the Patriots are used. Testing has shown that those kept constantly on high alert - with electrical current keeping them in "hot status" ready to fire - have developed problems with a component known as the radio frequency downlink, described by Kern as a "black box" that sends signals back and forth from a ground station to guide the missile in flight.

Kern said the manufacturer, Raytheon Co., had given warrantees that the missile to work properly while in "hot status" for a maximum of six months. The Army has kept some Patriots in that status for years, he said, while swapping 50 to 70 of them a year for testing and running diagnostic tests on them in the field. The missiles that developed problems range in age from three to 10 years, Kern said. The components suspected of failing cost as much as $100,000 per missile, but the replacement effort will cost more than that. Kern said he could not estimate the total cost.

The problem and the swap-out of missiles was first reported Thursday by The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper said Patriot missiles were pulled from approximately 11 batteries in South Korea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Each battery has about 64 missiles, although Kern would not confirm specific numbers.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 24, 2000

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