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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

28 July 2015

MEADS versus Next Generation PATRIOT – The Fight Continues

With MEADS being selected as Germany’s next tactical ground based air defence system in June, Thomas Homberg, Managing Director of MBDA Germany, part of MEADS International, together with Lockheed Martin and MBDA Italy, has good reason to be pleased. Speaking during Paris Air Show 2015, Homberg told the assembled press: “We are very proud and very glad that the German federal ministry of defence took a decision to use the Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS) and the development results of the trinational development programme as a foundation for their future ground based air and missile defence system.”

MEADS launch. (All photos via author)

Homberg said MEADS fits the requirements laid out by Germany featuring capabilities such as, “the open architecture of the system, the plug and fight capability for unprecedented interoperability, the 360° that has been demonstrated in live firing exercises in the US, the high mobility of the system and the reduced life cycle costs and specifically, the reduced number of personnel which is required to operate the system.” Homberg continued: “These were key criteria which were decisive for the German customer as far as we understand.

According to Homberg, other benefits include the fact that the German customer is taking advantage of, “a long standing partnership between leaders in missile systems,” and, “a robust and mature handover point of the trinational MEADS development programme into the German future air defence system or TLVS,” while also “taking advantage of the succesful investments that before were made”.

He went on to say: “We feel responsible and committed to deliver in tight cooperation with the German armed forces, namely with the German air force, with our industrial partners, to deliver the programme to Germany in budget, in time and in quality.

Germany: Saviour of MEADS

Stating that, “it is pretty important to have a reference customer,” Homberg said, “we are very confident that additional countries will follow because of the superiority of the system,” including, “customers beyond Europe as well.” Like Germany, Italy too is believed to make a formal decision this year about whether to acquire MEADS as the basis of a national air and missile defence system. Now having selected MEADS as a follow on to PATRIOT with MBDA Germany being the prime contractor, Germany is going ahead with the programme after the US decided to withdraw in 2011. However, the US has continued contributing to the programme as a proof of concept effort until 2014 while channelling other funds to future upgrades for PATRIOT. Also speaking during PAS15, Rick Edwards, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s missiles and fire control business, made clear that, “the US made a decision for financial reasons, not performance reasons, not to fund the completion of the integration of MEADS. However, there is a requirement in the US for a modernized system and contrary to what is widely said, there is no funded PATRIOT upgrade programme in the US. US Congress has in fact not funded that programme the last three years and are now conducting an analysis of alternatives looking at what technologies are available. We look forward to compete for what eventually will become a PATRIOT upgrade programme. Patriot has shortcomings including 360° capability. It has got a world class missile now but the rest of the infrastructure needs to be upgraded.”

Part of MEADS are 360° rotating AESA radars ,which include an Italian made Multifunction Fire Control Radar (MCFR) and a Lockheed Martin built Surveillance Radar. Used against Short- and Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM & MRBM), the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) effector is an integral part of the MEADS system while Homberg said that he did not have, “the slightest doubt,” that the (Diehl Defence) IRIS-T SL missile against traditional air defence threats would indeed also be integrated as part of the TLVS programme. Speaking about MEADS’ primary effector, Edwards said: “MSE is a significant performance improvement over the baseline PAC-3 and is in full rate production now. It enters service with the US Army this summer." Addressing questions about cost of MSE, he said: “We are coming off a very high volume of production of build that will get at over 300 interceptors a year. This will put cost and performance of the PAC-3 MSE against any missile in the world.

German MEADS element.

MEADS: 360° Capability – A Force Multiplier

Speaking about performance of the programme, Edwards said: “In the last five years every single milestone of the programme was met and the budget that the three countries laid out in 2004 was also met. When we talk about a model for collaboration this team has proven that we effectively work together. 18 months ago (in November 2013) at the White Sands missile range, history was made when the MEADS system intercepted two targets simultaneously coming from opposite directions, both a tactical ballistic missile and a drone simulating a cruise missile. The experiment was performed flawlessly and to see the missiles going in opposite directions engaging those targets was the culmination of ten years of work for our team.
With, “the threat evolving during deployments,” as he said, Edwards stressed the importance of ,“the ability to engage multiple targets coming from multiple directions: I anticipate any country that has bought that system including PAC-3 [PATRIOT] will want to understand the benefits of how the 360° capability really is a force multiplier for the capability they already have. Look at how Saudi Arabia intercepted a SCUD coming out of Yemen with a legacy PAC-2 system, which has a proximity warhead. For that kind of targets that could be effective but if that threat has a weapon of mass destruction you need to have the kinetic energy of a hit-to-kill missile. Looking at the map, that threat can come from multiple directions.”

Finalising Development of MEADS

Questioned about the timeline of the TLVS programme, Homberg said: “The exact phasing and the exact configuration are subject to discussions which we expect right now to happen.” He went on to say: “Some things are obvious. We have to finalise the development of the MEADS major end items. We have achieved a high level of maturity of all components, they are ready up to 80 to 90 percent. The German customer to our understanding wishes to integrate a secondary effector into the system. Not only Germany is thinking in that direction but other customers as well, so here is work to be done.” However, Homberg stressed that, "we are not going to see a fully Germanised system.” Edwards indicated that, “overall the system is more than 85% complete to its original plan before we cut it short. The technical hurdles and the technical risk in our view are behind us. What you are looking at now are things that come normally just before you go in production of the programme. There is more effort to do in training, in the logistics plans, software qualification, although we did run tactical software. The tactical operations centre was fully operational and we demonstrated that last year. This gave a lot of insight into that. There is not anything in the remaining stove that has any of us concerned about our ability to accomplish on time or on cost.

Raytheon’s Next Generation PATRIOT

Despite the decision by the German government to select MEADS as its next tactical ground based air defence system, it became apparent during PAS15 that Raytheon is not yet willing to give up on the TLVS programme. Raytheon’s vice president for Integrated Air and Missile Defence Systems, Tim Glaeser, who until 2004 served as the Commander of the US Army’s 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade and commanded US and Kuwaiti Patriot forces during Operation "Iraqi Freedom," spoke to MT during the show. He is in no way convinced that MEADS will outperform Raytheon’s Next Generation PATRIOT: “We have a very defined growthpath for Next Generation Patriot. This will include a PATRIOT 360° AESA GaN (gallium nitride) sensor. GaN has been acknowledged as leap ahead technology that improves performance and decreases operational and maintenance cost of the weapon system. We open the architecture with what we call a common command and control node giving us the ability to integrate a nation’s indigenous sensors or effectors or weapon systems into our architecture. They get to leverage the entire investment of their country’s air and missile defence capability. We also integrate a family of effectors to include the PAC-3 hit-to-kill MSE effector which has already been integrated and fired off a modified PATRIOT launcher. We have had seven flight tests today and they have all been very succesful. That capability is available to any nation who chooses to want that today, you do not have to wait for a MEADS or something in the future to fire that. We think that taking what you have and making it better is probably the most cost effective way in constrained environments to ensure you have a credible air and missile defence capability. The family of effectors and the integration of indigenous capability allow you to select the most cost effective interceptor, to process a particular engagement against the threat.”

Next Generation PATRIOT radar. 

The International PATRIOT Community

Glaeser also spoke about the benefits of having a wider PATRIOT community: “The 13 international PATRIOT partners contribute into an engineering services contract each year and we meet once a year and we decide together what improvements both in hardware and software we want to make to the weapon system. These are shared funding based on the number of fire units each nation has and once each engineering change proposal is completed and qualified, then each nation has the opportunity to buy none, one, some or all of these improvements which is a very cost effective way and a unique way to ensure that PATRIOT stays ahead of emerging threats.

Glaeser promoted the incremental, low risk way in which the legacy PATRIOT is evolving into the Next Generation PATRIOT with feedback derived over the years from, “2,500 in the loop simulations and over 600 test firings,” being used to make the system better. “The new GaN based AESA array can be installed as a bolt on replacement to PATRIOT 's current radar main array,” Glaeser told MT: “The modification to the AESA GaN array allows us to actually do that upgrade in a country. We have built an upgrade kit so that the international customer does not have to send the radar back to the US, we can do it forward deployed. More importantly, you get to retain the entire technology upgrades in the back end of the radar which includes the Radar Digital Processor that allows us to make future improvements to that radar be it software rather than hardware changes, so again a very cost effective way of taking what you already have, making it better, and then adding even new gamechanging technology like AESA GaN to the array on the front. If you so choose, or have a requirement for 360° coverage, you can add what we call the rear quarter panel arrays on to that sensor, also AESA GaN technology.

PATRIOT launch.

With the addition of GaN-based active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs), Raytheon's PATRIOT Missile Defence System will be capable of detecting and tracking airborne threats in a 360° radius, according to the company.

Rotating Versus Staring Arrays 

Speaking about the relevance of 360° capability, Glaeser, a former PATRIOT air defence battalion commander himself, went on to say: “The 360° coverage is a very interesting topic. When we first fielded PATRIOT in the early 1980s, a battalion of PATRIOTs has six fire units in the US Army configuration. It had a sectored system. You can use a very simple TTP of just using three or four Patriot fire units and you can get 360° coverage. It depends on where your threat is coming from. We jokingly say if you are surrounded by an enemy that can shoot ballistic missiles at you from 360° you have a bigger problem than PATRIOT or MEADS are ever going to solve. You should know where your ballistic missile threat is coming from in any operational scenario. You have other TTPs as well where you have mutually supporting, overlapping fires, defence in depth, you have more than one means providing you coverage. It depends on how you set up your defence design.”

Speaking about MEADS, Glaeser said: “As we understand, it needed three radars to get that 360° coverage. They had two fire control radars that were rotating and when they were prosecuting a very stressing ballistic missile threat, one had to stop and stare. At that time it became the same sectored system that PATRIOT is today. We at Raytheon have done a lot of analysis on rotating versus staring arrays and we conclude that a staring AESA GaN array optimizes your capability to engage all the known threats, even stressing threats, if we orient the main array to where we believe the main attack is going to come from.

On LCC and Personnel

Talking about life cycle costs and personnel requirements, Glaeser said: “One radar beats three any day of the week in terms of training, costs, logistics. That is why we opted for that particular solution. The US has studied this and was part of the MEADS development for many years but in February of 2011, the US government made a decision not to procure MEADS. They did it for three reasons: one, it was a billion dollars over cost, two, it was a decade behind schedule, and three, it did not work and they were paying 58% of the bill. Germany was in it for 25% at the time and Italy 17 percent. So, four and half years later, Germany makes a decision or announcement that they are going to continue development of MEADS. So, they are going to pay all that development costs by themselves and then procure the weapon systems. Just think of the infrastructure that will be required: new training, new maintenance, new logistics, new manuals, new spare parts and no other nation has the capability. All the other nations that we know of have recently made decisions to upgrade PATRIOT or buy new PATRIOT or buy additional PATRIOT fire units. We know as we are in production right today that you have to stay ahead of obsolescence all the time. So, think of something that has not really been developed for four and a half years and now we are going to start it again. What obsolescence issues might be confronted as they start this programme up again?

TLVS: Raytheon Waiting in the Wings

Questioning some of the criteria that led to the selection of MEADS, Glaeser said: “Having talked to the German MoD and politicians, we understand that PATRIOT is the preferred alternative solution. They have set up a very defined series of milestones that MEADS as they move along with the TLVS selection will have to meet. If they would struggle or be challenged to meet some of those milestones the German government would look to Next Generation PATRIOT as an alternative. We will keep the German government informed of our milestones as we proceed forward. If and when MEADS has future challenges, we will be ready and able to fill any void that may occur.”

Glaeser then spoke about the current status of the German PATRIOT programme: “We are proud of the fact that Germany has been a PATRIOT partner member since the early 1980s. They still have a significant number of PATRIOT fire units that are currently at Configuration 3 and we understand that they will move forward with modernisation efforts to take them to the latest baseline of Configuration 3+. We understand that PATRIOT will be in their military formation to the year 2025 or 2030. So, there is a decade plus of future Patriot partnership together with the German MoD.”

PATRIOT has evolved from the Anti Tactical Missile (ATM) PAC-2 and the PAC-2 Guidance Enhancement Missile (GEM) upgrade to the PAC-3 that uses hit-to-kill technology instead of the conventional explosives that were previously used. Initial PAC-3 missiles have been superseded by Cost Reduction Initiative (CRI) missiles while Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) versions are being introduced that feature insensitive munitions improvements. An enhanced M903 launching station is also being introduced that enables mixed loads of PAC-2 GEM and PAC-3 MSE missiles. Under the US Army’s PATRIOT P3I modernisation programme, a new Radar Digital Processor will deliver a 40% reliability improvement of the system’s radar set while a new so-called Modern Adjunct Processor is also being incorporated. The PATRIOT 3+ baseline configuration being used for the programme also features modern man stations with touchscreens. In addition to the US Army which intends to keep PATRIOT in service beyond 2048, Germany’s neighbour the Netherlands has also opted for PATRIOT Configuration 3+ with the Dutch military already looking to extend the service life of their PATRIOT  systems until 2040.

In a move that was decribed by Lockheed Martin’s Rick Edwards as, “disappointing,” Poland decided to opt for an off the shelf system, subsequently selecting PATRIOT systems for its Wisla programme, with Raytheon thus beating EUROSAM’s SAMP/T. However, Edwards emphasised that MEADS will compete for a second programme called Narew, presumably with IRIS-T SL: “We are still active in Poland and were responding to that short range system. Being a modular system with plug and play capability, MEADS could become the backbone depending on how Poland wants to architect the programme for other capabilities to plug in to.

Meanwhile, the Polish PATRIOT systems will compromise all the Configuration 3+ upgrades the US is currently implementing with the Next Generation PATRIOT’s AESA GaN main array and the rear phased array panels being retrofitted to achieve FOC in 2022.
Pieter Bastiaans