Dr. Jeffrey Lewis Profile picture
May 17 21 tweets 7 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Since I got dragged into this, a short 🧵.
There are three separate issues here: (1) Do we take the Ukrainian claim to have downed 18 targets at face value, (2) is it likely and (3) does PAC-3 make a meaningful contribution to the defense of Ukraine? My answers: No, not likely, and still maybe.
Do we take Ukrainian claims to have intercepted "six X-47M2 Kinzhal aeroballistic missiles, nine Kalibr cruise missiles from ships in the Black Sea and three land-based missiles (S-400, Iskander-M)" at face value? OH COME ON.
During the 1991 Gulf War the US said it intercepted 45 of 47 Scuds fired by Iraq. It later turned out that the number was much, much lower than that.
foreignpolicy.com/2018/03/28/pat… Image
As an aside or point of clarification: The assessment by CRS is a very different argument than Ted Postol's analysis of video evidence, which GAO, CRS staff and others believed was seriously flawed. (I think it was flawed too.)
That's why my colleagues at @JamesMartinCNS were skeptical of Saudi claims that Patriot was intercepting all the Iranian missiles being fired from Yemen. We were only able to examine 2 cases closely, but in both we concluded there was no intercept.
Now, let me be clear: The Ukrainians should absolutely be claiming that they shot down all the Russian targets. This is a war, not an academic conference. There is no reason for Ukrainian officials to do Putin's BDA for him.
On the second point, is it likely that the Patriot went 18 for 18? Let's give Patriot it's due. The Patriot system in Ukraine is the PAC-3 which is a very different, vastly improved system than the older systems that share the brand-name Patriot.
PAC-3 has some capability against medium-range ballistic missiles with a burnout velocity of 3.5 km/s, which is the high-end estimates of the Kinzhal. So an intercept is definitely possible. On the other hand, Shohei Ohtani is a great batter but he's never gone 18 for 18.
A few considerations. First, per the @nytimes: "Two U.S. officials confirmed that a Patriot system had been damaged in the attack but added that the Patriot remained operational against all threats."
That might not have been a Russian missile, though. While there was definitely a flash in one of the videos showing an explosion near the battery, that could either have been a Russian missile getting through or, as we saw in Saudi, an interceptor failing.
Another point: Shoigu claimed that 18 was "three times greater than the number [Russia] launched." While he's not reliable we've seen plenty of interceptors launched against phantom radar tracks. It's very plausible the number was less than 18.
Another problem in 1991 was Iraqi missiles either broke up in flight or badly missed their targets, which resulted in overestimating the success of Patriot. Russian missiles have low reliability rates, so that's a further complication--but in a good way.
Another aside: The Ukrainians were quite clear that Russia used the S-300 missile in a surface-to-surface mode which is something we knew it could do in theory, but that I haven't seen in practice. (The S-300 is Russian missile defense interceptor).
Going 18 for 18 seems unlikely, but not impossible. What's more likely is that the Ukrainians launched against 18 targets and PAC-3 reported that the interceptor had successfully engaged the target. That doesn't mean it killed the target or that it was even there.
Does this matter? Not really. The case for investing in PAC-3 will be statistical, not anecdotal. PAC-3 doesn't have to succeed 100% of the time to be a cost-effective addition to Ukraine's capabilities. I think this is basically right.
I don't know what the actual cost-exchange ratio is likely to, but it's plausible that the cost of destroying the individual elements in a Patriot Battery is a bad trade for Russia. PAC-3 isn't that expensive.
Basically, you'd have to figure the how many Kinzhal missiles (at what cost) it would take to destroy each element in the battery (accounting for the cost of the vehicle plus missiles expended in defending itself). It's not obvious to me that's a good trade for Russia.
There are other factors to consider: if Patriot becomes a Russian missile magnet then, in a resource constrained world, those missiles Russia spends trying to kill Patriot aren't targeting Ukrainian military forces or civilian infrastructure. That's good.
And, of course, the batteries defend targets other than themselves. That's also good. All of which is to say, Patriot doesn't need to be perfect in this scenario to offer a cost-effective strategy to deal with Russia's heavy use of long-range missile strikes.
Update: I ran a bunch of numbers and PAC-3 doesn't have to be that effective to be cost-effective. I made a ton of assumptions where data would have been better (Kinzhal CEP, payload lethality, system reliability, and cost set against PAC-3 vehicle hardness and intercept rate)… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

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