This is the Patriot missile defense system that just ‘failed catastrophically’ in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's missile defense system intercepts several missiles fired from rebel-Houthis.

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Saudi Arabia’s missile defense system intercepts several missiles fired from rebel-Houthis.
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Screenshot via Twitter/Rosie Perper

FORT BLISS, Texas – Houthi rebels in Yemen fired at least seven Burqan 2H ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

The Saudis attempted to intercept the missiles with five US-made Patriot missile defense systems, but the intercepts appear to have failed.

We recently got a chance to see a Patriot system at Fort Bliss, although the artilleryman there declined to comment on its success rate.

One person was killed and two more were injured by shrapnel in Sunday’s incident, possibly the result of the Patriot Advanced Capability-2, or Pac-2, missiles that the Saudis fired themselves.

This is not the first such incident between the Saudis and Iranian-backed Houthis who have been locked in a deadly war in Yemen since early 2015.

The Saudi’s Patriot system has failed in other Houthi attacks too, but it has also been successful in other ones. Between June 2015 and July 2015, Houthis fired at least 19 missiles at Saudi Arabia, 17 of which were intercepted most likely by Patriot batteries.

Here’s what we saw at Fort Bliss:


Developed by Raytheon, the MIM-104 Patriot became operational in 1985 and is now the US Army’s main missile defense system.

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The missiles are fired from the M901 Launching station mounted on the back of the M983 Heavy Expanded Mobility Truck.

Source: CSIS


Each Patriot launcher holds four missile canisters.

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The Patriot fires two kinds of missiles: the Pac-2s and Pac-3s.

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The main difference between the Pac-2 and the Pac-3 is that the Pac-3 has a radar transmitter and guidance computer and uses hit-to-kill technology, directly hitting the targeted missile with a small warhead.

The Pac-2s, on the other hand, explode near the target to either knock it off its course or explode it.

The Pac-2 replaced the older Pac-1.


Only one Pac-2, which the Saudis used to try to shoot down the Houthi missiles over the weekend, fits in a canister.

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Pac-2s have a maximum speed of Mach 5, a maximum range of more than 60 miles and a maximum altitude of 20 miles.

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Source: Missile Defense Agency


Four Pac-3s, on the other hand, which are smaller than Pac-2s, fit in each canister.

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They have a maximum speed of Mach 5, a maximum range of 9 to 28 miles, depending on the target, and a maximum altitude of 6 to 9 miles.

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Source: globalsecurity.org


Here’s what an empty launcher looks like.

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And how it’s loaded.

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Now let’s look at the five other vehicles that make up a Patriot battery and allow it to operate.

Source: CSIS


The electrical power plant, seen here, powers the Patriot defense system.

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The engagement control station holds a bunch of computers that feed the battery information.

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The commander of the battery is stationed and fed data in the battery command post.

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The radar antenna detects incoming missiles.

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And this is the antenna mast group, which works with the radar to track targets.

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The Patriot is currently in service with 14 countries, including the US.