U.S. sent Israel anti-missile Patriots --but not quite in time, analysts say WAR IN THE GULF

January 19, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON BUSINESS REPORTER TED SHELSBY CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Israel has U.S.-made Patriot missiles that could knock out Iraqi missile attacks, but the high-tech defensive weaponry arrived too late to counter the attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa yesterday morning, military analysts said yesterday.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington refused to comment on why its forces did not use the Patriots to intercept and destroy the Iraqi-launched Scud missiles, some of which plowed into residential parts of the two coastal cities. A spokeswoman would not even comment on whether Patriots had been deployed in Israel.

But the U.S. Army, in the first combat use of the multibillion-dollar tactical air defense system, used a single Patriot to blow up a Scud missile bound for U.S. and allied positions at Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia at about the same time.

U.S. military spokesmen refused to discuss the question of Patriots in Israel. But a State Department official said that the administration decided "a couple of months ago" to provide the missiles to the Jewish state.

Independent analysts say the first two batteries of the missiles were delivered only two weeks ago -- far too late for the Israelis to train their own operators.

David Harris, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Command at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala., which manages the Patriot missile program, said that while he knew nothing about Patriot deployments in Israel, he did know that it would take "many weeks" to train an inexperienced crew to operate a Patriot system.

"It's not like buying a VCR," he said. "You don't just take it out of a box and turn it on."

Mr. Harris disclosed that the Patriots being used by U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were of a new generation that came into production only about two months ago. The new missiles, he said, were designed specifically to destroy airborne missiles -- an adaptation of the original concept, which was primarily to target enemy aircraft. Production of the new missiles was hastened after the gulf tensions began in August, he said.

The 17 1/2 -foot, 2,100-pound Patriot follows a radar beam to reach its target. Army spokesman Maj. Peter Keating said that the effective range is in excess of 50 miles.

U.S. Army spokesmen say that prototypes of the latest adaptation were tested successfully on six occasions against tactical ballistic missiles, including Pershing 2s, over the last eight years.

Evidence of the sophistication of the Patriot technology is the missile's ability to track and engage targets while traveling at over twice the speed of sound toward objects traveling at similar velocity, Major Keating said.

They are deployed in batteries of six mobile launchers, each of which can hold up to four missiles, he said.

But Steve Kosiak, an analyst for the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, a non-profit think tank, said that the cost of the Patriot -- military officials say each missile costs over $800,000 -- was a high price to pay to destroy the relatively outdated Scuds.

He said that the U.S. military would find it more cost-effective to bomb and destroy the Scud batteries on the ground.

The 11-year-old Army weapon is manufactured jointly by the Raytheon Co. of Bedford, Mass., and Martin Marietta Corp. of Bethesda, Md. Martin makes the missile at its Orlando plant and has shipped more than 3,500 units.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.