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MIM-104 Patriot SAM 

MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile

(United States)

Notes: A common replacement for the MIM-23 Hawk and MIM-14 Nike-Hercules, the Patriot entered service in 1984, after a protracted development that began with the 1964 “SAM-D” program. The Patriot is the only SAM to have successfully been used in the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) role during actual combat. As of July 2007, more than 12,000 have been produced.

The missile itself is a single-stage Thiokol solid-fueled rocket with a SARH-homing seeker underneath a fused-silica radome. In addition to the rocket, Patriots contain a complete battery-powered electrical system powering hydraulic motors for the control fins. The MIM-104B version adds an anti-radiation backup to home on “Wild Weasel” aircraft. The MIM-104C/D/E have new features to improve performance against ballistic missiles. The “Patriot PAC-3” project is almost a completely new missile; intended solely for the ABM role with very limited anti-aircraft potential. It incorporates a Ka-band active onboard radar.

Patriots are launched from a four-round towed M-901 launcher. (the PAC-3 fits four missiles to a canister, for a total of sixteen per launcher). The missiles are “wooden rounds” meaning the canisters are factory-sealed requiring no maintenance. The M-901 can “ripple” fire a Patriot every 4.2 seconds.

The Patriot’s radar is the AN/MPQ-53 G-band phased-array system with IFF subsystem (AN/MPQ-65 for PAC-3). The AN/MPQ-53 has 5000 separate 1 ½” antennas and a range of 60NM. It can track 100 targets simultaneously. The whole system is controlled from a AN/MSQ-104 Engagement Control Station. This NBC-sealed control centre communicates with the other components via fibre-optic cables or a secure UHF datalink. The complete system is powered by a twin 150kW diesel generator with 75gal fuel tanks.

The launchers and power plant are towed by M-983 HEMTT trucks. An additional HEMTT (called “the scorpion tail”) has a crane to remove expended canisters and install fresh ones. A Patriot unit can transition from travel mode to firing posture in 45 minutes. All of the battalion’s components can be transported by C-5 Galaxy planes.

Each MIM-104 battalion consists of one AN/MSQ-104, one radar, one generator truck, a maintenenace company, and six M-901 launchers. About 600 men are needed for each battalion.

In 2012, the US Army will begin transitioning to the MEADS SAM system, which will incorporate the PAC-3 missile and unspecified other components.

COST: Each individual missile costs between $1-3 million, depending on the version. The radar costs about $48 million. The AN/MSQ-104 costs about $6 million. Each HEMTT in the battalion adds another $150,000.

USERS: United States, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan


Operation Desert Storm: The Patriot’s debut came during Desert Storm, where 42 Iraqi ballistic missiles were engaged. At the time of the cease-fire, President George HW Bush stated that the MIM-104 had a kill rate of 97%. The US Army shortly thereafter downgraded this to 80% in the Gulf theatre and 50% over Israel. In April 1992, a MIT study stated that the actual overall success rate was “under 10%”. However later that year a Harvard study determined that 33% of the targets engaged were struck and 25% destroyed. This study is now generally accepted as the definitive rate.

A reason for the discrepancies is that many “intercepted” missiles were not destroyed, with the Patriot’s proximity-fused warhead splitting the SRBM’s warhead off but not destroying it. This was compounded by the fact that Iraq’s al-Hussein and “Scud” SRBMs tended to disintegrate during their descent, and the AN/MPQ-53 often locked on to the tumbling fuel tank instead of the warhead. The performance over Israel was also affected by that nation’s dense population which meant that missed warheads were more likely to hit cities.

A small silver lining was the psychological impact of the MIM-104, especially in Israel where intercepts (actually successful or otherwise) were often carried on live television. Finally, however low the rate may have been, the Patriot is the first weapon in history to have defeated a ballistic missile in battle.

Operation Iraqi Freedom: The MIM-104 deployed again to the Gulf in 2003, keeping pace with US amroured units including the final assault on Baghdad. Patriots were credited with eight confirmed SRBM downings (al-Samoud II and Ababil-100 types) for an unknown number of firings. However, the Patriot was involved in three “friendly fire” tragedies: A RAF Tornado (mistaken for an incoming missile) and a USN F/A-18 Hornet (crew error). Conversely, a USAF F-16 Falcon attacked a 101st Airborne Division MIM-104 battalion (the same one which downed the Hornet) with an AGM-88 HARM after mistaking it for a SA-2 “Guideline” SAM. The battalion’s AN/MPQ-53 was destroyed but no soldiers were killed.




PAC-3 (MIM-104F)





8 ½ NM


Mach 3

Mach 3

Mach 5








200lb HE-FRAG (Proximity fuze)

200lb HE-FRAG (Proximity fuze)

185lb HE-FRAG (Proximity fuze)

Kinetic energy “hit-to-kill”

AA/ABM able?






Entry created by: Jason W. Henson

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