Even as the combat-proven Patriot Air and Missile Defense System celebrates 50 years of innovation, revolutionary technologies developed by Raytheon Company are evolving the battle-proven platform to face the threats of today and tomorrow.
"Today’s Patriot is an evolving, cutting edge system that was built on a foundation of more than 2,500 ground tests, 700 flight tests, countless operational deployments, and scores of combat intercepts," said Ralph Acaba, vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business. "In close partnership with the US Army, our international customers, and industry partners Raytheon has introduced innovation into every aspect of Patriot: from upgrading the hardware and software to stay ahead of the threat, to sustaining the equipment, to going to the field to support the warfighter."
Although the Patriots rolling out the door of Raytheon’s Andover, Mass. production facility have the same name and look as earlier variants, the resemblance is only skin-deep. Cold-war era vacuum tubes and monochrome screens have long since disappeared, replaced by state of the art technology: microchips smaller than a grain of salt and hi-res touch-screen monitors that would be the envy of any video-gaming enthusiast. Today’s Patriot now uses three new missiles – the GEM-T, PAC-3 and PAC-3 MSE – to engage drones, aircraft, cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles.
Even the design and manufacturing of Patriot has changed. "Engineers now work in a 3-D virtual reality environment that allows them to test a design approach prior to sending it to production in Raytheon’s largely automated factory," Acaba said.
"Older" Patriots aren’t really old anymore. That’s because Patriot is a system comprised of multiple elements including a radar, missiles and the command and control system which are all continually modernized. This is how Patriot evolves and changes as the mission evolves and changes.
"Raytheon sustains Patriot," said Wally Massenburg, Senior Director for Mission Assurance Business Execution. "From a modernization standpoint, this means that take a Patriot that was built a number of years ago, swap out all the old associated hardware, and load in new software. And when we get done, that system has the same capability as a Patriot built in 2015, and just as importantly, the same life-span." The continual modernization and improvement is part of a deliberate plan.
"The U.S. Army has committed to keeping Patriot in its inventory until 2048, so the U.S. and the 12 Patriot partner nations continue to make significant investments in the system to ensure it remains ahead of the threat," said Tim Glaeser, vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense Business Development at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems. "Global Patriot partner nations reap outsize benefits from these investments because the improvements, enhancements and user experiences are shared across the 13-nation Patriot partnership." The 13-nation partnership will soon grow to 14, as Poland recently selected Patriot for its air and missile defense needs.
In addition to supporting the technology roadmap developed by U.S. Army and the Patriot partnership, Raytheon is also investing its own resources in the system. Case in point is Gallium Nitride, or GaN, a technology that enhances system performance while reducing production and operation cost.
"Raytheon is currently working on an internally-funded research and development initiative, a GaN-based Active Electronic Scanned Array Radar for Patriot which will ultimately make Patriot less expensive to build and operate in the field, while giving warfighters enhanced capability such as 360-degrees of protection," said Norm Cantin, Director of Patriot Growth programs. "We have built and demonstrated 360-degree capability with a GaN-based AESA pilot array, and are in the process of building a full-scale demonstration radar."
The U.S. government recently cleared the Patriot GaN-based AESA radar for export, and Raytheon has demonstrated the pilot array to a number of countries, including the U.S. and Poland. In addition to using GaN-based AESA, the main array also features other cutting edge technology, such as a new, Polish-made Identification Friend or Foe antenna that helps air defenders differentiate between enemy and friendly aircraft. "The combat-proven Patriot has an amazing track record and a bright future ahead," said Acaba. "Stay tuned, because the best is yet to come."