What Is A Patriot Missile System, And Why Do Nations Want Them So Much?


Jack Dunhill


Jack Dunhill

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

Jack is a Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer for IFLScience, with a degree in Medical Genetics specializing in Immunology.

Social Media Coordinator and Staff Writer

patriot missiles

The Patriot system deployed by Turkey. Image Credit: mehmet ali poyraz/

As Western weapons flood into Ukraine to combat the ongoing Russian invasion, one of the most sought-after is the US-made Patriot missile system. Developed as an advanced defense option against cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and advanced enemy aircraft, the MIM-104 Patriot is a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system that would go a long way in defending against incoming strikes and would greatly aid in President Zelensky’s wishes for a "no-fly zone" over Ukraine.

Unfortunately for the defending nation, US President Biden has categorically ruled out providing Ukraine with Patriot systems, citing that it would require US troops to operate them, an act that would undoubtedly be seen by Moscow as an escalation.


But what is the Patriot system, and why is it so desperately wanted?

What is the patriot missile system?

The MIM-104 Patriot is a missile battery that has replaced previous SAM systems as the US’s main line of defense against incoming missiles and aircraft. More specifically, it replaced the Nike Hercules system as the Army’s High to Medium Air Defense (HIMAD) system and is now the Army’s primary system in anti-ballistic missile defense.

It was designed in 1969 and is produced by Raytheon at a unit cost of around $1 billion, and carries four missiles costing around $3 million each.

The Patriot is mobile and uses four main components: communications, command, radar surveillance, and missile guidance. The radar itself, which is used to identify threats and track incoming targets, is where the system draws its name from using the rather on-the-nose acronym ‘Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target’, also known as AN/MPQ-53. This radar supposedly has a range of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles).


Inside the missile tubes sit huge 5.2 meter (17 foot) long missiles, packed with 90 kilogram (198 pound) warheads, in either the PAC-2 or PAC-3 variant. Upgraded missiles use guidance enhancement systems, meaning as they fly, an onboard target acquisition system identifies the target and transmits data to the command station, where final course adjustments are made. Each missile has a minimum flight time of less than nine seconds and a maximum of three and a half minutes, in which time it can travel up to 70 kilometers (43 miles) to a target.

A German Patriot system on display. Image Credit: VanderVolf Images/

Why is it so wanted?

Patriot batteries often move in groups of eight launchers, each able to fire four missiles, accompanied by a group of around 90 US soldiers. However, the Patriot system is now in use by a host of other nations across the world, including many European NATO countries, South Korea, Qatar, the UAE, and Taiwan. The system has seen service in multiple conflicts, including the Persian Gulf War, Iraq war, and ongoing Saudi Arabian-Yemeni border conflict.

Patriots are one of the only systems available that can defend against incoming missiles, making them highly sought after in conflicts.

Missiles are proving to be a destructive force in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has now fired over 1,100 missiles into Ukraine, though they supposedly have an extremely high failure rate of around 60 percent according to US officials, owing to launch failures and failure to explode. 

Will the us ever give one to ukraine?

Despite being exactly the defense Ukraine needs, they will not be seeing any of the Patriot systems deployed in the ongoing conflict. Biden and sources familiar with the system have stated that Patriot batteries require significant training to use, which would entail US or NATO troops entering Ukraine and either operating the systems or spending significant time training Ukrainian troops to do so. Reaffirming that US troops will not set foot on Ukrainian soil during the conflict in defense of the nation, that rules out Patriot as an option, even with other US weapons being regularly gifted to Ukraine.

However, Patriot systems have been moved to surrounding NATO countries to sure-up air defense, particularly in Poland, where two units were recently moved from the US. Germany is also extremely familiar with the system and has used Patriot batteries for many years.

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.


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