As the civil war in Syria escalates and threatens to overspill its borders, the US has held its hand from intervening — but not from reinforcing its frontline ally Turkey. We bring you this op-ed in praise of the Patriot missile’s role in Mideast Peace from former Rep. Geoff Davis, a former Army officer. Mr. Davis has no business connection to Patriot manufacturer Raytheon or to other companies working on the system, which is currently a contender for Turkey’s own missile defense program.
The news that the United States will send two Patriot missile batteries and 400 troops to Turkey to bolster defenses against incoming artillery from the escalating civil war in neighboring Syria is a testament both to our commitment to our allies and to our military’s readiness to deploy. It is also a testament to the success of Patriot as a proven missile system to deter attacks.
I have personally witnessed the critical role that Patriot plays in missile defense as an Army officer, as well as a Member of Congress, when I was a Congressional observer for the joint US-Israeli theater air defense exercise Operation Juniper Cobra, in 2005. According to the American and Israeli commanders there, Patriot was the cornerstone of medium range missile defense, integrated with a full array of air defense capabilities. With the festering crisis on the Turkish-Syrian border, Patriot has again answered the call to protect an ally.
For months now, tensions along the Turkey-Syria border have escalated as Syria’s cross-border shelling has killed Turkish civilians. In early December, NATO formally approved sending troops and Patriot missiles to Turkey to deter skirmishes. The international community has kept a wary eye on Syria and is right to be concerned at what could happen should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government collapse. NATO has warned that Syrian use of chemical weapons would be met with force, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said plans have been developed by the US military, but he warned that it is difficult to defend against such weapons.
Enter the Patriot missile system, which has proven to be an effective deterrent. Patriot retains all the sophisticated capability and knowledge gained in actual combat spanning two decades and in more than 1,000 flight tests under real-world conditions around the globe. Over the years, it has undergone a complete modernization that has significantly reduced operating costs, and more than 40 Patriot fire units are now in production or undergoing modernization for five countries. The new systems are fully tested with a range of interceptors and a variety of threats.
In fact, the Patriot’s reputation is such that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said recently, “I do believe that a deployment of Patriot missiles will serve as an effective deterrent and de-escalate the situation along the Turkey-Syria border. The mere fact that Patriot missiles have been deployed make it necessary for any potential aggressor to think twice before attacking Turkey.”
Deploying the Patriot missile and U.S. troops to operate it sends a clear and important message to Syria and other like-minded nations that their hostilities will be met with force. The announcement of today’s deployment is exactly why the United States has continued to invest in the modernization of this tried-and-true system. When our allies’ security is on the line, we can quickly turn to battle-tested systems.
While critics point to the system’s failure in the Gulf War, it is important to remember that Patriot was originally designed to bring down aircraft. During Operation Desert Storm, Patriots were pressed into service to intercept Iraqi scud missiles. By 2004, the Patriot’s success rate in Operation Iraqi Freedom was a perfect nine for nine, according to the defense information publication Global Security.
In its January 2004 issue, Army magazine, a publication of the Association of the US Army had this to say about Patriot: “In the maelstrom of combat, Patriot answered any question about its lethality against tactical ballistic missiles. … [t]he Department of Defense signaled its continued confidence in Patriot by redeploying the system to Southwest Asia when Iraq proved unwilling to abide by the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire agreement. Indeed, during the years between Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, ‘Patriot diplomacy’ made the familiar silhouettes of Patriot launchers on foreign soil symbols of American resolve around the world.”
Critics point to an erroneous report that overstated the cost of sustaining the Army’s Patriot inventory as a staggering $12.5 billion a year as proof that system should be retired. The real cost of sustaining the system in fiscal year 2011, according to Army documents, is actually $545 million. That cost is kept low for the U.S. because modernization upgrades are shared among the 12 nations employing Patriot.
In these days of austerity and across-the-board cost-cutting measures, it is inconceivable that we would risk the safety of our troops and the well-being of our allies by not supporting a proven missile system that is cost-effective and efficient. Turkey and other allies are now reaping the benefits of the continued investment in Patriot – our best deterrent of war and preserver of peace.
Geoff Davis served as a US Representative for Northern and Eastern Kentucky from 2005 until August 2012, serving on the House Committee on Armed Services. A graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, and former Army Ranger and aviator, he ran flight operations for American forces in support of a 17-nation Coalition Multinational Force & Observers Peace Enforcement mission between Israel and Egypt. He is currently a consultant.