Israel Becomes FIRST Country to Retire Patriot Missile Defense System  

Israel retires its aging Patriot air defense system in favor of more modern, homegrown solutions.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

On April 30, 2024, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced the upcoming decommissioning of the Patriot air defense system (“Ya’alon” in the Israeli Air Force). The process will gradually reduce batteries until the system is completely removed from service. This will happen fairly quickly, as stated on the IDF website. The replacement system has not been officially announced; however, it is speculated that it will be “David’s Sling,” which has been in service since 2017.

The decision was not sudden. In the recent past, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had two Patriot air defense system (ADS) divisions – the 138th (“Northern”) and the 139th (“Southern”). The total number of batteries was never officially disclosed, but some sources claim 8-10 of them, with 4-6 being on long-term lease from Germany. Since 2020, there have been successive reports of reductions of the system from service.

Patriot ADS in the IDF

In 1962, Israel ordered 5 Hawk ADS batteries from the USA. They arrived in the country starting in 1965, and additional systems were ordered. By 1973, according to some sources, the IDF had 12 batteries, reaching up to 17. The Hawk underwent numerous upgrades and remained in service with the IDF until 2014, with a service life of 49 years (1965-2014). For comparison, in the USA, the Hawk served for 42 years (1960-2002)

The Patriot became the IDF’s second “heavy” ADS and was introduced into service in the fall of 1990. The first 2 Israeli batteries were provided as urgent American assistance; at that time, the IDF did not have personnel trained to operate the Patriot, and the first delegation, mostly composed of former Hawk operators, departed for the USA on November 25, 1990. With the outbreak of the First Gulf War on January 17, 1991, the personnel returned urgently to Israel. The US servicemen supplemented the personnel of the Israeli batteries, and all technicians were Americans. Additionally, 4 American and 1 Dutch Patriot batteries protected the skies of Israel. In January-February 1991, Iraq launched 43 SCUD missiles toward Israel (42 “Al-Hussein” and 1 “Al-Hijara”), and at least 36 Patriot missiles were used to intercept them. Despite initial optimistic reports, intercepting these missiles was unsuccessful.

The Israeli Patriots’ first intercepted target, an unmanned air vehicle (UAV), appeared only in 2014. A total of 19 targets have been shot down by Patriots, including nine during the current war. 

Retiring the Patriots from service

In the article on the IDF website dated April 30, 2024, Colonel Matan, commander of the 138th division, says: “The Patriot is an old system that is difficult to maintain, so at present, we are reducing the batteries until the entire system is removed from service.”

The Patriot was accepted into service in the USA as early as 1981 and reached initial operational capability in 1984. However, the production of the system continues. Some countries have acquired it in very recent years. For example, Romania received its first units in 2020 and Poland in 2022, while Morocco and Switzerland ordered the system in 2021-2023. According to the manufacturer RTX, the Patriot is currently in service with 19 countries and has over 250 surface-to-air missile systems. President of Raytheon’s Ground and Air Defense Systems, Tom Laliberty, recently told Defense News that the US fields 85-90 of these systems, with the rest distributed among 18 other client countries. None of the countries have yet retired it from service, including the USA itself. Hence, Israel will be the first to do so.

Like any complex system, the Patriot is constantly being modernized. It is known that some of the radars of the Israeli Patriots were upgraded to the AN/MPQ-65 level; there is no information about the modernization of other system elements. In general, the Patriots in Israel are old, with missiles manufactured 20-30 years ago.

With four levels of missile defense (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Arrow 2, and Arrow 3) and the ability to intercept aerodynamic targets (Iron Dome and David’s Sling), it is not expedient to invest resources and efforts in modernizing the Patriot. Besides, the cost of Israeli missiles is significantly lower. For example, the price of Stunner (David’s Sling missile) is cited as $1 million, while MIM-104F PAC-3 MSE missiles cost $4 million for the US military and $6-10 million for export.

However, the Patriot Systems sales are continuing unabated, despite receiving setbacks in Ukraine. The first surge in Patriot’s popularity came in 2014 when Russia attacked Ukraine and annexed Crimea. 

“Given our capabilities to produce 12 batteries per year, we have sufficient capacity to fulfill both current and future contracts when they are awarded,” noted RTX in Defence News.


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