Patriot Redux: MIT Scientists Say Missile a Near-Total Failure
In his letter "In Defense of the Patriot Missile," (Aug. 25) Raytheon Senior Vice President C. Dale Reis builds an argument based in part on misleading and false claims about two reports by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) about Patriot's performance in the Gulf war. Mr. Reis makes the misleading claim that the first GAO study did "not contradict the US army's findings" regarding Patriot's success rate. In fact, the GAO found that the Army's data was inadequate to determine the effectiveness, either success or failure, of Patriot's Gulf war performance.
The letter's other statement regarding the second GAO study is simply untrue. It assertes that this GAO study concluded that commercial television video could not be used to reliably determine Patriot's intercept success in the war. In fact, this GAO study reached no conclusions about the use of videos to assess Patriot's performance. It simply listed arguments made by critics, most of whom were associated with either Raytheon or the US Army, claiming that video evidence could not be used to assess the performance of Patriot. In the words of Henry Hinton Jr., then GAO's director for Army Issues, the report "merely stated their views" and "did not say whether we [the GAO] agreed or disagreed with their views." Moreover, a report by a panel appointed by the American Physical Society to investigate the validity of using the video data subsequently rejected the arguments listed in the GAO report as either incorrect or irrelevant.
We have conducted a detailed assessment of Patriot's performance in the Gulf war, using news media videotapes of Patriot-Scud engagements. This analysis unambiguously shows that Patriot's success rate in destroying Scud warheads was very low, and most likely was zero. In contrast to the Army's assessment, which relies on classified data that was judged unreliable and inadequate by GAO and other congressional investigators, our analysis, based on publicly available date, has been published in a refereed journal and is entirely open to the public. Despite the intense scrutiny it has been subjected to, no substantive valid criticism of this analysis has yet been made.
Mr. Reis further argues that high-ranking Israelis, such as the Gen. Avihu Ben-Nun, the officer in charge of Israel's Air Defense Forces at the time, have "rebutted" Reuven Pedatzur's congressional testimony that Patriot failed to hit a single Scud warhead. In fact, Mr. Pedatzur testified that Patriot failed to hit a single scud warhead, but acknowledged that it may have knocked some missiles off course - causing Scuds to land in one area of a city rather than another. The Boston Globe published a front-page story based in part on the Globe's own interviews with Ben-Nun, that completely agreed with Pedatzur's testimony.
Here is General Ben-Nun's ringing "rebuttal" to the Globe and Pedatzur presented in writing at the same congressional hearing:
"The Boston Globe asked me for some numbers and I didn't provide any numbers. I didn't deny that some people in certain criteria believe that only 1-3 missiles were destroyed. At the same time, I told them that there were many more successful intercepts that hit the coming Al -Hussein but didn't destroy the warhead. Mr. Pedatzur came to see me after the Boston Globe article was published. He didn't get from me any numbers or data only restating the importance of agreed criteria before any further discussions."
The Globe then reported the letter and concluded by stating that the Globe stands by its earlier story.
If Ben-Nun's statement seems vague, other high-ranking Israelis have been clear. Moshe Arens, Israel's minister of defense during the war, was videotaped in an interview with Pedatzur in September 1993 that was later reported in The New York Times. When Pedatzur asked Arens how many Scuds Patriot intercepted, the defense minister replied that the number was "minuscule." Pedatzur then read to Arens the conclusion from a still-classified Israeli report - "There is no evidence of even a single successful intercept of an Al-Hussein by Patriot. There is, however, circumstantial evidence for one possible intercept." Arens responded, "It sounds correct." In another videotaped interview by Pedatzur, Gen. Dan Shomron, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force during the war, similarly stated, "To the best of my recollection, only one Scud missile exploded in the air as a consequence of a Patriot explosion."
Even though the Gulf war ended over six years ago, the issue of Patriot's effectiveness in the war is not moot. It remains our only experience with ballistic missile defense, and must necessarily influence subsequent thinking and decisions on missile defense. One perspective is that of the Army (with which Raytheon agrees) that Patriot was over 60 percent effective - leading to the conclusion that the problem is well in hand. Our analysis leads to a dramatically different conclusion: Patriot was a total or near-total failure during the war, and following the war the Army and Raytheon sought to cover up this failure, even while the Army sought funding, and Raytheon lobbied Congress, to upgrade the system.
George N. Lewis,
Security Studies Program
and Theodore A. Postol,
Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology