US missiles “Patriot” in Lithuania: why Vilnius was happy and Kremlin furious?

AP / Scanpix

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, who came for a visit to Lithuania, was reluctant to talk about the possibility to deploy air defence systems “Patriot” of Lithuania. However, unnamed officials still admitted that these missiles will be deployed in Lithuania. When will this happen, what does it mean and what are their capabilities?

On his visit to Lithuania J. Mattis received a few questions related to air defence “Patriot” deployment in Lithuania. About the possibility to dislocate these systems to Lithuania talks began on October of last year. However, there was no official confirmation up until now.

The head of the US Department of Defence has avoided this question diplomatically and only said that Americans will deploy “what they need” in Lithuania.

However, unnamed American officers have confirmed to US journalists that one battery of “Patriot” “may be deployed in the region in June for the air defensive exercise”.

A lot of interpretations began after these news. Out of the context you could have thought that the U.S, will deploy an unknown number “Patriots” systems for a long time right before or even during exercise “Zapad”, which was organized by Russia.

In fact it was worth to look into the content of the message because there’s written that, according to US officials, American military “component will participate in this exercise but the US doesn’t plan long-term changes in air defence in the region.”

So there are no talks in Lithuania about “Patriot” deployment during the “Zapad” exercises, or long-term presence of such systems Lithuania.

Also they talk about a battery, a small unit. However, the delivery of those systems for the exercise and the exercises of air defence means a lot. And not only symbolically, which would be for Russia, which is increasing its military power in the region.

Exercise, which hasn’t been seen in Lithuania

On 10-21 of June, in Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania international exercise “Tobruk legacy” will take place. Lithuanian soldiers will be participating for the first time in such exercises. Last year and the year before Lithuanian soldiers conducted combat firing from short-range air defence complexes RBS-70 and “Stinger”.

However, this time the “Tobruk legacy” is important not only because 350 of allied troops will be deployed to Lithuania. According to DELFI sources the most important thing is that it will be an integrated exercise, which will take place in several NATO countries at the same time, in response to the alleged air threat in the region. An early-warning AWACS aircraft and the NATO air policing fighters will participate in the exercise.

Americans will bring long-range air defence systems “Patriot” and the short-range “Avenger”, which uses the Stinger missile systems, to Lithuania. All the missiles won’t be educational but prepared for combat firing.

The reports mention the size of the battery unit: it usually consists of six rocket launchers and 70 to 90 soldiers. However, when deploying “Patriot” in foreign countries, sometimes it is only the so-called Minimal engagement package (MEP).

In the 2002 drafted US Army headquarters fight Statute states that a unit consists of roughly 65 soldiers, mobile headquarters, two rocket launchers, radar, fire control, communications, refuelling and other vehicles: a dozen in total that can be quickly brought in by 5 transport “C-5 Galaxy” planes or seven C-17 aircrafts.

A mobile unit that can operate for 24 hours a day for about two weeks can also come on its own or be brought in by a railroads or sea. This unit is scheduled to be deployed in Romania, where new US missile defence system with SM-3 missiles is already in action.

The same statute also states that the “Patriot” systems are usually deployed in battalions, which consists of 4 to 6 batteries, situated in a range of a few dozen kilometres. But the deployment of one battery or MEP is not uncommon.

For example, the United States deployed in Poland a unit like this in 2010, which consisted of a few rocket launchers. Even though this deployment was more symbolic it annoyed Russia because the “Patriot” was deployed 60 km from the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad Region.

Anger in Russia over US rockets

But why Russia should be against “Patriot” if it has deployed long-range air defence systems S-300 and S-400 in the Kaliningrad region, right near the border with NATO? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that such actions are defensive in response to the increase of Alliance’s military capabilities alongside the Russian borders.

One of the reasons for this may the violation of balance of military capabilities which is perceived by the Kremlin. Russia still enjoys quantitative superiority in the region: in the Western Military District, which includes the Kaliningrad military group, where are the most of modern Russian capabilities that surpass the neighbouring NATO countries by several times.

For example, the Baltic States don’t have their own fighter jets, medium or long-range anti-aircraft weaponry. At the time, Russia in addition has offensive weapons: from the renewed 1st Tank Army, are forming three new divisions to by short-range ballistic missile “Iskander”.

By the way, propaganda website vesti-Kaliningrad, which belongs to the Russian state TV and radio company and is famous for segments praising the Kremlin regime, gives a lot of attention to Lithuania lately and stated that the planned deployment of US system “Patriot” is as a threat to the system “Iskander”, which is deployed in Kaliningrad.

“Why do the Americans need the zenith rocket complexes near the Kaliningrad region? For example, the Polish Ministry of Defence doesn’t hide that the latest version of “Patriot” can shoot down Russian “Iskander” missiles. Now the goal is clear” author Andrey Vypolzov states with triumph.

He is known for scandals and defamation of Lithuania in his created articles. This year, the site vest-Kaliningrad assessed the deployment of German soldiers as “the beginning of the occupation.”

“In any case, Lithuania can be called an independent country less than before. There are foreign troops in Lithuanian territory, who can’t even be convicted of crimes that they commit here” says the anonymous author and offers a link to another related article, which was released in December.

That article ridicules and says that Lithuanians are allegedly “planning to abandon their primary right to impose criminal jurisdiction against the American soldiers.” And according to the author, Andrei Vypolzov, who is another representative of the Kremlin propaganda channel, it means that “Lithuania recognizes that it has been occupied by a foreign country.”

A. Vypolzov talked similarly about Lithuania this time, while commenting on the deployment of “Patriot” and J. Mattis’, who is known as “Mad dog”, visit to Lithuania.

“By the way,” Mad Dog” didn’t hide that the aim of visit is different: to see how successful the German combat group is. In other words, the chief of Pentagon admitted that he is inspecting the colonial forces. Also, the US defence secretary noted that Lithuania is an unstable state “, – assured A. Vypolzov.

However, the author that is considered a tool of Kremlin propaganda didn’t explain why the United States should shoot down Russian ballistic missiles during the exercises. And if the “Patriot” truly aimed at “Iskander”, which carries a nuclear weapon, then the question arises why Russia should launch these missiles at NATO countries? Because the “Patriot” can only shoot down ballistic missile that’s in the air already, this is one of the functions of the US weapons system.

The system is tested and modernized

In fact, in the 9th decade of last century developed and to the weaponry accepted “Patriot” system was originally designed to fight the aviation of the enemy. However, in 1988 the modernized system has gained a limited capacity and to fight with the enemy with tactical and battlefield theatre ballistic missiles.

If the first “Patriot” version of the PAC-1 could destroy targets 70 kilometres away, then later model’s PAC-2 firing range increased from 96 to 160 kilometres. Recent modifications of the PAC-3 mean that it can shoot down targets 20-35 kilometres away, but, unlike the older modification “Patriot” systems, PAC-3 exhibits exceptional accuracy. The new radar and aiming system allows the latest “Patriot” modifications to separate a manned aircraft and unmanned rocket from a great distance.

Besides the US, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates , Kuwait and Jordan have bought various modifications of “Patriot”.

The only country, which has successfully used “Patriot” against a manned planes and unmanned aircraft, is Israel. Most live firing had been carried out by the United States, however, several times they shot down aircrafts of friendly forces.

US forces still uses the PAC-2 which has four containers with 41 cm diameter rockets in their launchers, and the new PAC-3 that is equipped with 16 individual containers with missiles of 25 cm diameter and missiles roughly about 5 meters long.

Unlike missiles of previous modification, PAC-3 missile has a very small warhead with 24 chips, designed to increase the damage to the target. However, the accuracy means that the missile destroys the target simply by kinetics – by hitting it at high speed.

First and second modifications of rockets were tested in 1991 during the first Gulf War. Then the “Patriot” didn’t have exceptional marksmanship and shot down only 40 per cent ballistic missiles launched from Iraq to Israel and 70 per cent to Saudi Arabia.

However, Thodore Postol, who is one of the critics of US missile defence and especially liked by the Kremlin’s propaganda channels, said that the “Patriot” missed all targets.

The criticism of the controversial scientist led to mockery because he only showed data shown on TV. T. Postol later criticized other US missile defence programs, stating that the SM-3 missiles are ineffective even though testing has showed the opposite.

However, the US has decided to modernize “Patriot” systems to the PAC-3 level and a rocket, which is based to this modification, together with Germany, Italy and the United States is developing a new MEADS air defence system, which will replace “Patriot” in the future.

So far, this system, especially PAC-3, is considered to be one of the most modern long-range air defence systems in the West.

The modifications PAC-3 missiles can shoot down enemy ballistic or cruise missiles because the “Patriot’s” radar can detect the targets speed, height, and the “behaviour” (how it manoeuvres). The latter can fly in a high, specific to ballistic missiles, trajectory or horizontally near the ground, above water, by adjusting their direction, which is more common for cruise missiles.

Lithuania’s look at Poland and US actions

Would the “Patriot” PAC-3 would be able to destroy “Iskander” launched by Russia is fortunately still a theoretical question. But Poland, where Americans deployed several “Patriot” PAC-2 in 2010, that cost 7.5 billion dollars this year bought 8 “Patriot” PAC-3 batteries. Warsaw wants that 2 batteries of these systems would reach Poland in 2019.

Poland just like Lithuania, feels uncomfortable knowing that Russian short-range ballistic, maybe even in violation of international treaties cruise missiles, which are deployed in Kaliningrad could be used during a blitz attack.

A hit from these missiles to NATO headquarters, ammunition depots, airports and other strategic objects could at least for a short or indefinite period cripple the countries’ armed forces and even political leadership. The fact that Russia is training specifically for such attacks was seen by the previous “Zapad” exercise, when Russia imitated the hit at Warsaw using ballistic missiles with nuclear charges.

This is the reason why Poland wants to change their hopelessly aging, produced back in Soviet time’s medium and long-range air defences but also own defence against ballistic missiles. At the same time Lithuania’s needs are more modest: to cover the airspace and strategic objects from possible aviation raids.

In a case of conflict, even disrupted operations of the enemy’s aviation and shot down aircrafts can help to win some time and raise the moral and spiritual condition. Lithuanian army, which is slowly increasing their fighting power, in the foreseeable future will have one of the world’s most modern infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and three brigades, which should be ready to fight straight after receiving a signal.

This is why air or anti-aircraft defence is considered one of the most important shortcomings. Some of them are covered by the short-range air defence system RBS-70 “Stinger” and the newly bought “Grom”. In the near future Lithuania also plans to buy medium-range anti-aircraft batteries NASAMS, which are made in Norway.

Even the short-term deployment of long-range air defence tools will help Lithuanian military personnel to get to familiarize with a different level of systems, to see how air defence works in an integrated network. Since they don’t dismiss the thought that Lithuania would be happy if the US would deploy the “Patriot” systems permanently near Lithuania, on the border with Poland.

It’s extremely important not only when swapping data with allies but also to get knowledge, practical knowledge because the Lithuanian troops currently need and will increasingly need professionals, who know how to work with complex information technology, communication and similar modern instruments.

About Vaidas Saldziunas 37 Articles
Jau daugelį metų domiuosi karinėmis ir saugumo temomis, Jungtinėje Karalystėje esu studijavęs karo mokslus. Žiniasklaidoje dirbu 8 metus, daugiausiai dėmesio skyriau užsienio naujienoms, o nuo 2015 metų rašau DELFI gynybos ir saugumo temomis.
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