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Lessons o f the Gulf War Experience with Patriot Theodore A. Postol A t the end of the Gulf War, Americans felt a sense of both relief and jubilation over the performance of coalition forces and the numerous high-technology weapons of the West. This sense of relief and jubilation has also been accompanied by a feeling that America has surprised its skeptical and competitive industrialized allies with a stunning demonstration of its latent technological prowess. The peerless symbol of that latent technological prowess is the Patriot air defense system. Patriot was presented to the general public in a most sensational way. Nightly television news broadcasts featured dramatic engagements of Scud ballistic missiles by Patriot air defense batteries. During this period, there was almost no visual television news coverage of coalition military activities, except briefings by spokesmen for the coalition forces, and occasional film footage from a small group of CNN reporters operating from a hotel in downtown Baghdad. Thus, the Patriot was given center stage on television for a significant part of the Gulf War, having a magical effect on the public's perception of events. Many have viewed the spectacular Patriot sky displays as proof that it is a highly successful weapon. Others have argued that it demonstrates the feasibility of missile defenses, including defenses against nuclear-armed missiles . President Bush, for example, asserted, "Now, with remarkable technological advances like the Patriot missile, we can defend against ballistic Theodore A. Postol is Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society and the Defense and Arms Control Studies Program at MIT. I am greatly indebted to numerous anonymous Israeli officers, and U.S. and Israeli scientists and engineers for sharing their expertise and specific knowledge of events with me, and to several senior members of the MIT engineering faculty for subjecting early versions of this paper to careful technical review. Special thanks are due to Dr. George Lewis, whose helpfulness and intellectual presence result in important contributions to virtually every activity in our program at MIT and to Mr. Reuven Pedatzur of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, for his timely and insightful collaborative efforts to unravel the mystery of why the Israelis did not follow U.S. fire doctrine during the Patriot's defense of Israel. Dr. Avner Cohen, Senior Visiting Fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies, also made numerous major contributions . I would also like to thank Professor Jack Ruina, Secretary of the Faculty at MIT, for his personal and professional support during several trying periods while this work was being performei: and for his liaison activities with the MIT administration. International Security, Winter 1991192 (Vol. 16, No. 3) 0 1991by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 119 International Security 26:3 I 220 missile attacks aimed at innocent civilians.”’ Patrick Buchanan wrote, ”Using SDI technology, the United States has shown it can attack and kill ballistic missiles. . . .The [SDI]debate is over.”*And Kenneth Adelman wrote, “Iraqi Scud attacks have shown how valuable the antiballistic-missilecapabilities of the Patriots are.”3 But others have offered a rather different set of observations and opinions. Raising questions about Patriot performance before the House Defense Appropriations Committee, General Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that it was “not always the case” that Patriot intercepts were effectivein preventing ground damage. “Sometimesit breaks up, breaks it in different pieces, and so you have had cases where the warhead has landed and gone off.”4 Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown wrote that, “Neither the technology of Patriot nor the task it had to perform bears any close relationship to SDI.”5Congressman Charles E. Bennett wrote, “We can all be proud of the Patriot system. It is the kind of practical, workable anti-missile system we should be producing. But those who are trying to piggy-back their own pet programs on the back of this success story are sadly misinformed.“6 This range of views raises significant technical and policy questions about the Patriot’s performance in the Gulf War, its implications for SDI, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 119-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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