The war in Ukraine and the large-scale Russian missile attacks on the country’s civilian infrastructure impressively demonstrate the importance of effective air defence. For this to function, however, a sufficient number of interceptor missiles is necessary in order not to maintain defensive capability through a long strike campaign and also avoid defences becoming saturated. Users of PATRIOT, the most common long-range air defence system in the Western world, are apparently also learning this lesson and are weighing the procurement of additional missiles.
In order to meet the growing demand in the coming years, PATRIOT manufacturer Raytheon Missiles & Defense wants to expand its production capacities by cooperating with German missile specialist MBDA Deutschland. Jürgen Koneczny, the managing director of COMLOG, a 50:50 joint venture of MBDA and Raytheon, based in Schrobenhausen, Bavaria, explained in an interview that both companies have developed a “strategic roadmap” for the production of PATRIOT family missiles in Germany, and the necessary production capacities could be built up at COMLOG. The joint venture already maintains, repairs and modernises PATRIOT PAC-2 family missiles used in Europe, Koneczny stated, adding that “for this purpose, additional partners can be integrated into the strategic roadmap, including the MBDA subsidiaries Bayern-Chemie and TDW. Bayern-Chemie is one of the leading companies in rocket propulsion systems and TDW in warheads.”
Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of International Requirements & Capabilities at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, points out that COMLOG offers “an excellent starting point” for quickly establishing a new production facility. According to him, this would be concerned with the final assembly of the GEM-T variant of the PAC-2 series, also known as the MIM-104E. Stephenson stated: “So for us, it will be a new production base. It will be a new international expansion in terms of GEM-T and the PATRIOT system, because we will be doing all the final assembly of the missile in Europe for the European partners. We believe this is possible through COMLOG’s existing infrastructure and capabilities, licensing, supply chain and skilled workforce.”
The US government is also familiar with COMLOG’s capabilities and experience, and Stevenson said: “we anticipate that they will be fully supportive of our proposal.” The project is the logical way to meet growing demand in Europe, he added, “with the project in Germany, we will double our GEM-T missile production rate worldwide,”. According to Stevenson, the goal, is not to replace production capacity in the US, but to expand it elsewhere, in order to be able to increase production for the international community. This is not entirely new, as PATRIOT family missile engines were already assembled in Germany for a time in the 1990s. However, production was then discontinued after all orders had been processed.
Raytheon manager Stevenson would transfer the production of missile engines to Bayern-Chemie at Aschau am Inn if the project were to be successfully implemented. “This would be a renewal of the capabilities and capacities that Bayern-Chemie already had in the past,” he explained. Raytheon would go even further and entrust the MBDA subsidiary with the production of the entire propulsion section. Stevenson stated, “This means that an important subcomponent of the missile will be manufactured in Germany.” Stevenson estimates that it would take three to four years to qualify the entire manufacturing process and establish the supply structures for the rocket motor. In addition, TDW could potentially manufacture the warhead.
For COMLOG managing director Koneczny, finding the right personnel is a challenging process. “We will use the time for qualification to get the right people on board by the time series production starts”, he said.
According to Raytheon and MBDA’s strategic roadmap, the contracts would be handled by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), through which the maintenance of PATRIOT family missiles has also been managed up till now. The European states would then procure their GEM-T missiles via this agency. “Germany could act as an anchor contractor,” said Koneczny, through the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), which was launched by Berlin.
So far, 14 NATO allies plus Finland have signed a letter of intent for the development of the ESSI initiative, on 13 October 2022. The initiative is aimed at strengthening NATO air defences in Europe, creating a European air and missile defence system through the common acquisition of air defence equipment and missiles by European countries. The German MoD envisages that the partner countries will jointly procure, use and maintain the requisite systems, saving costs and creating synergies. According to the German MoD, the ESSI signatories intend, to jointly purchase the IRIS-T SLM air defence system developed in Germany or additional guided missiles for the PATRIOT air defence system.
Germany as an anchor customer is probably necessary to ensure a sufficiently large purchase of missiles to make the investment in a new production line in Bavaria worthwhile. After all, the project must also eventually pay off in business terms. Observers assume that the minimum production quantity required is likely to be in the upper three-digit range. Since the German government wants Germany to play a leading role in air defence in Europe, this idea is not entirely far-fetched.
Even in the days of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr had a focus on air defence. At that time, the air force operated 36 PATRIOT batteries, plus just as many HAWK batteries and about a dozen Roland units. This impressive portfolio has since shrunk to just 12 PATRIOT batteries. The stock of PAC-2 missiles in the air force’s ammunition bunkers is also said to be limited to only a few hundred. The PAC-2 (MIM-104C) variant is relatively old by modern standards, having entered service in 1990, and as such, there is a need for improvement here. New members of the European PATRIOT Club, such as Sweden or Switzerland, will receive the PAC-2 GEM-T version. Koneczny explained that Germany has so far only ordered a limited number of PAC-2 missiles to be upgraded to the PAC-2 GEM-T configuration. It is also worth noting that while the PAC-2 GEM-T is the most recent version of the PAC-2/GEM series of missiles, it is not a particularly new missile design, having equipped its first unit back in 2002, according to the US Army’s Lower Tier Project Office.
Raytheon has stated that the GEM-T missile has improved capabilities for engaging tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or aircraft compared to the baseline PAC-2, and its capabilities can complement the shorter-range PAC-3 missile, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Should Raytheon and MBDA’s strategic roadmap meet with interest among European PATRIOT users and be implemented, the advantages would be obvious: part of the added value would remain in Europe. At the same time, manufacturing capacities and know-how would be created in Germany, which would reduce dependence on foreign countries to a certain extent and increase industrial resilience.
The PAC-2 missiles in German service are rapidly approaching the end of their service life, estimated to be around 2030, and would therefore require replacement before then. German defence insiders have stated that under current plans, the German Air Force intends to operate the PATRIOT system until 2048. Meeting this service life target would therefore necessitate procuring replacement missiles, and potentially other replacement components, such as a new radar. Raytheon has developed the LTAMDS as a replacement for the older AN/MPQ-53 and AN/MPQ-65 radars, and this may be necessary to keep Germany’s PATRIOT systems effective out to 2048. According to Stevenson, both the PAC-2 GEM-T and the PAC-3 MSE missiles are compatible with LTAMDS.
Looking ahead, there is the possibility that new PATRIOT users will arise in Europe. Slovakia, for example, has famously handed over its surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine and is currently protected by other NATO partners such as Germany.
Until a production decision is made in Germany, the political and military leaders must draw up concrete procurement plans. It is clear that ground-based air defence is not the only high-priority project for the Bundeswehr. However, with the launch of ESSI, Berlin has created a certain expectation among the signatory states. Moreover, the issue of ammunition shortages in the Bundeswehr has now reached the general public, as evidenced by the coverage of the recent ‘Ammunition Summit’ in the Chancellery. This has generated further pressure for Germany’s leadership to find a solution.