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Context of 'June 27, 2003: Problems with Patriot Anti-Missile Batteries Exist 12 Years Later'

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Joseph Cirincione.Joseph Cirincione. [Source: Takoma / Silver Spring Voice]Joseph Cirincione, an expert on proliferation issues and national security, is detailed by Congress to find out just how well the Patriot missile performed in combat during the Gulf War. George H.W. Bush told a group of Raytheon employees, who helped manufacture the Patriot missile system, that the system had performed admirably during the war: “Forty-two [Iraqi] SCUD [missiles] engaged, 41 intercepted.” (Some sources later cite Bush as claiming that the figures were 43 of 45.) Television viewers around the globe were familiar with video footage of Patriot batteries blazing away at the sky during the middle of the night; such images became icons of the technological success of the war. However, Cirincione finds a very different story for the Patriot. His investigations of Defense Department records shows that the Patriot actually only brought down two to four SCUDs in 44 intercept attempts, or about a 10 percent success rate. The video footage rerun so often by American news broadcasters was of Patriots exploding in midflight. Nevertheless, Congressional funding for the Patriot and other missile defense systems rose dramatically after the war.
Pentagon Experts Knew System Faulty - Experts in the Pentagon admitted to Cirincione that they knew the Patriot system didn’t work as early as 1991, when it was deployed to Iraq. Cirincione tells a reporter, “Everybody thought that missile defense could work” after the erroneous reports of the Patriot’s success. “So it gave the whole program, theater and strategic missile defense, a new lease on life, and cost us billions of dollars more in research and programs that still haven’t proved to be viable.… The power of that television image, the power of that myth of the Patriot success, proved to be very powerful indeed. Studies and scientific inquiries alone can’t overcome the popular misperception.”
Army Incensed with Findings - The Army is incensed by Cirincione’s findings, he will recall in 2004. “The Army insisted that they knew they had some problems with the Patriot, but it didn’t serve any purpose to make these public. We would just be aiding the enemy. And that they would take care of it in the course of normal product improvement.” Why did the Army so adamantly oppose Cirincione’s findings? “The Patriot is a multi-billion dollar system. There’s a lotta money involved. There’s a lotta careers involved.” Cirincione will say that the Army continued to claim that the Patriot was a success even after he presented them with his findings until 2001, when it finally admitted the Patriot’s poor performance. [PBS Frontline, 10/10/2002; Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Raytheon, US Department of the Army, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph Cirincione

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

During the first weeks of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” US Patriot anti-missile batteries record twelve intercepts. Three of the twelve are friendly aircraft (see March 23-April 2, 2003). [Carter, 2004, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Tornado fighter plane similar to the one shot down by a US Patriot battery.Tornado fighter plane similar to the one shot down by a US Patriot battery. [Source: Army-Technology (.com)]The Patriot missile defense system, so famous from iconic video footage shot during the 1991 Gulf War (see Mid-1991), destroys a British Tornado jet fighter in mid-flight, killing both of its crew members. The Tornado is in friendly airspace, is alone, and had already completed its mission and released its weapons, when the Patriot mistakes the Tornado for an enemy missile and destroys it. US military spokesmen explain the incident as due to a “computer glitch.” Originally built to shoot down aircraft, its manufacturer, Raytheon, modified it just before the 1991 Gulf War to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles. When the Army deployed Patriot batteries in Iraq, the crews quickly realized there were problems with the system. The Tornado is just the first of an array of problems manifested by the Patriot. The Tornado’s mission should have gone smoothly, according to retired Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, who will advise an upcoming British Parliamentary inquiry into the shoot down. “They had fulfilled their mission and they were returning without weapons back to base.”
US Officials Misleading British? - Mason does not believe the Army’s “computer glitch” story. “If the system is confusing missiles with planes, that is just not just a minor glitch. The two are so different, that it’s difficult really to imagine a system could do that.” One of the biggest problems with the Patriot system is that it is completely automated: it tracks airborne objects, identifies them, decides whether or not to fire, and, if its operator does not override the machine in a very few seconds, fires. Reporter Robert Riggs, embedded with a Patriot battery, will recall, “This was like a bad science fiction movie in which the computer starts creating false targets. And you have the operators of the system wondering is this a figment of a computer’s imagination or is this real. They were seeing what were called spurious targets that were identified as incoming tactical ballistic missiles. Sometimes, they didn’t exist at all in time and space. Other times, they were identifying friendly US aircraft as incoming TBMs.” A US Army report will find that “various Patriot locations throughout the theater” routinely identify “spurious TBMs”—tactical ballistic missiles that didn’t exist. Most of the time, the Patriot computers correct the mistake on their own. Sometimes, they do not. Riggs will recall, “We were in one of the command posts. And I walked in and all the operators and officers are focused intently on their screens. And so you know something’s going on here. And suddenly the door flies open, and a Raytheon tech representative runs in and says, ‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ Well, that got our attention real quick.”
Systematic Problems - Two days later, a US F-16 destroys a Patriot battery that mistakenly targeted it (see March 25, 2003). Eight days after that, a US Navy pilot dies when Patriot missile fire destroys his plane (see April 2, 2003). Reporters find that the Patriot has had systematic problems in identifying friendly and hostile targets since 1991 (see June 27, 2003). [Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Riggs, US Department of the Army, Joseph Cirincione, Tony Mason, Raytheon

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Two days after a British Tornado fighter plane is shot down by a US Patriot anti-aircraft missile battery (see March 23-April 2, 2003), a US F-16 pilot is “painted” by what he believes is an enemy missile system. He fires his own missile in self-defense, destroying, not an Iraqi installation, but a Patriot battery. Former Congressional investigator Joseph Cironcione will say of the Tornado and F-16 incidents, “There was no way that Patriot system should have still been up and running, targeting aircraft. They should have stood down, knowing that they had a fatal problem on their hands.” [CBS News, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Joseph Cirincione

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Ten days after a Patriot anti-missile battery destroys a British fighter plane (see March 23-April 2, 2003), and eight days after a US pilot is forced to destroy another Patriot battery that targeted his plane (see March 25, 2003), US Navy pilot Lieutenant Nathan White, flying his 14th mission of the war, is killed by Patriot missile fire. White is returning to his aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, after a completed mission. [CBS News, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Nathan White

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The destruction of a British Tornado fighter plane by a US Patriot anti-missile battery (see March 23-April 2, 2003) and other similar incidents (see March 25, 2003 and April 2, 2003) prompt former Congressional investigator Joseph Cironcione to tell reporters that the Army has known of the problems with the Patriot since at least 1991, when Congress tapped him to lead an investigation of the Patriot’s performance (see Mid-1991). But, Cirincione will observe, the media impact of Patriot footage was apparently more important than its actual performance. “I saw the pictures. I thought this is amazing. This system is exceeding expectations,” Cirincione will recall of the Gulf War footage broadcast on CNN and other television networks. “And all during the war, that’s what I thought. This was what all the newscasters said it was—a Scud buster, a miracle weapon. … A lot of money started flowing into the Patriot right after the Gulf War, because everybody thought it was a success.” Cirincione discovered that the Patriot had a dismal record: “The best evidence that we found supports between two and four intercepts out of 44. About a 10 percent success rate.” In 2001, the Army finally admitted that the Patriot was not the ringing success it had claimed. And by that time, the new problem—targeting friendly aircraft as enemies—was becoming evident. A 1996 Pentagon report found that the Patriot had “very high fratricide levels.” Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Philip Coyle, who oversaw Patriot testing from 1994 through 2001, says the Army should have been aware of the problem. “I believe they were,” he will recall in 2004. “But the focus was on hitting a target. Other issues, such as friendly fire, didn’t get the same—either spending, or priority, as the first priority of hitting a target.” Cirincione agrees. “There’s a tendency in all our weapons systems to try to play up the good news and get it through its performance evaluations, and then try to fix the problems later on.… They think that it’s a problem with the system that they can fix down the line.” Those problems were never addressed, but the Army deployed Patriot batteries in Iraq anyway. Cirincione will add, “What’s so disheartening about this is the very things we warned about came to pass in this war. It’s clear that the failure to correct some of the problems that we’ve known about for 10, 12 years led to soldiers dying needlessly. To flyers, dying needlessly.” As of mid-2004, the Army had produced no reports explaining the friendly fire incidents. [Carter, 2004, pp. 52; CBS News, 6/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Philip Coyle, US Department of the Army, Joseph Cirincione

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

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