New US House Committee Report Will Say Patriot Missile Failed
Army, Raytheon dispute study that backs scholar's negative findings
ON Feb. 15, 1991, near the end of the Gulf war, President Bush traveled to the Raytheon Company plant in Andover, Mass., where the Patriot missile was manufactured, and declared confidently: "Forty-two Scuds engaged, 41 intercepted!"Skip to next paragraph
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That claim has not stood the test of time.
In the intervening 19 months, both Raytheon and the United States Army have substantially downgraded their claims of how well the Patriot missile system performed.
The latest Army estimate, released in April, holds that 158 Patriots fired during the war destroyed roughly 70 percent of their Scud targets in Saudi Arabia and about 40 percent in Israel.
But even those estimates may be too high.
The House Government Operations Committee staff is preparing to issue a report, probably in the next week, concluding that the Army's evidence is "very weak" in most cases, a knowledgeable source says.
The committee's staff has been examining the Army study with the aid of the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service. Summarizing their conclusions, the source says: "Is there evidence to support the 70 percent claim? No. If not, then what does the evidence support? Few, if any, hits."
That startling conclusion is adamantly denied by both the Army and Raytheon, which stick by their claim that the Patriot was successful in thwarting Saddam Hussein's ballistic-missile campaign against Saudi Arabia and Israel.
"Patriot's very credible performance and success can be measured by the events as they occurred. The coalition did not falter. Israel did not have to mount offensive actions against Iraq, and was able to stay out of the war. Widespread loss of civilian life was not inflicted," Robert Stein, a top Raytheon manager, wrote to military experts.
The debate over the performance of the Patriot is of more than academic interest. The multibillion-dollar weapons system is "very, very important" to the financial fortunes of Raytheon, the nation's fifth-largest defense contractor, company spokesman Pat Coulter says.
The Patriot's performance also has become entangled in the discussion over the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Although the Patriot was not developed through SDI, both opponents and proponents of "Star Wars" have used the missile as fodder for their arguments over whether ballistic-missile defense is possible.
"This is a complex and controversial issue. Many lives and billions of dollars are at stake," Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, said in April. "If American soldiers think that they can depend on Patriot battalions destroying 9 out of 10 enemy missiles, when the actual defense capability may be closer to 1 out of 50, it would be a disaster."
The forthcoming report from Representative Conyer's committee appears to vindicate the findings of Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology, and national-security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was Dr. Postol who first raised substantive questions about the Patriot's performance.