Patriot Missile Soldiers maintain, train to isolate air threats
By Staff Sgt. Kelly White, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 20, 2010
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Since its first combat use during Operation Desert Storm, a defender of U.S., Coalition and allied forces and assets in the Gulf region remains a pillar of protection against hostile aircraft and theater ballistic missiles.
The Phased-Array Tracking Intercept of Target, or Patriot, Missile System here in, is currently manned and operated by the Army's 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery- Soldiers who operate the system 24/7 and exercise ceaselessly to ensure readiness should they be called upon to react to enemy aggression.
"1-43 ADA Battalion is part of a Patriot Missile battalion in Southwest Asia as part of a standing commitment to security and stability in this region," said Capt. Luis Li, 1-43 ADA battalion intelligence officer. "We participate in regional security cooperation events and exercises. The deployment of units to this region is an indicator of the security partnership between Gulf Cooperation Countries and the United States."
The Patriot system consists of five operational pieces that, collectively, provide an integrated, coordinated, secure and mobile air defense system. It includes an independent electrical power plant, engagement control station, radar set, launch stations and missile interceptors."
"Patriot can be mobile in less than one hour and can emplace and engage threats within one hour of arrival," said Cpl. Charlie Cox, C Battery, 1-43 ADA Battery senior tactical control assistant. "Detection, identification classification and tracking, and missile guidance are executed by the Patriot radar."
The human interface for command and control of Patriot battery operations is in the engagement control station, a 5-ton truck-mounted shelter, where a crew of three - a tactical control officer, tactical control assistant and communications specialist - conduct track assessments to determine whether or not a track is engageable.
"Operators in the engagement control station have as little as 30 seconds to decide whether or not to engage a threat," said 1st Lt Justyne Foster, 1-43 ADA tactical control officer. "Intelligence analysis, and a combined air picture passed through the tactical data link, are vital to having as much time and information as possible."
With such a vital responsibility, the trio's ability to effectively communicate and remain calm under stress is critical.
"We're very heavily reliant on communication," Lieutenant Foster said. "Higher echelons are responsible for informing us what is or is not a threat for our critical assets.
Communication with higher also allows coordination to prevent engagement of friendly aircraft or spurious tracks."
Corporal Cox said having the consistency of the same 3-person team is also important to their success.
"Keeping the same team is key to a crew developing a battle-rhythm. We get a lot of practice doing this through the system's troop proficiency trainer, which gives us simulated air battle scenarios."
Regular practice is something Soldiers manning the launch station also recognize the importance of.
"Once a signal comes in for a possible inbound threat, we prepare to launch our missiles," said Cpl. John Dodson, 1-43 ADA launcher assistant section chief.
The PAC-3 missile is the newest Patriot missile, which is a "hit-to-kill" weapon designed to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.
The PAC-3 system also has improved lethality against enemy aircraft or cruise missiles, with its high-explosive fragmentation warhead.
Maintaining the missile launch station is the key to Corporal Dodson's crew's success, he said. "It ensures our equipment is mission-ready. You don't want a situation to occur where need for your equipment to work, but it doesn't, due to your own negligence," he explained. "You don't want to be the reason people get hurt. If you perform maintenance every day, little problems will not turn into big problems."
Corporal Dodson said his launch crew performs maintenance on their site throughout the day, every day, and that they also strive to continually shorten the time needed to prepare their launchers and missiles to fire.
"Doctrinally, a crew has 60 minutes to conduct a full missile reload on one launcher, using either a crane or a forklift," said Capt. Brendan McIntyre, 1-43 ADA Battery commander. "When involved in an air battle, our missile supply can deplete fairly quickly, so the faster we can conduct a missile reload, the longer we can stay in the fight - to protect our assets and allow the other servicemembers here to complete their missions."