Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last Tuesday during consultations with US President Joe Biden at the White House that the Netherlands intends to participate in the initiative of Germany and the US to send patriots to Ukraine. It’s amazing how something can become the center of attention overnight. Until recently, few people except the insiders had heard of this weapon system, and now the word “Patriot” is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Today in Airmail backgrounds with this effective air defense system.
The Dutch army has had the Patriot since 1987. Just last year, a Dutch Patriot unit was deployed to Slovakia, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Dutch patriots were also deployed to Israel and Turkey during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. The Dutch are also involved in the production of Patriots. The launch tubes for this missile system have been manufactured since the late 1980s by the Hoogeveen GKN Aerospace company (formerly Fokker).
Martin de Kruif
Former head of the army Mart de Kruif: “The Patriot is in principle a rather old system, but one that is constantly being updated. A unit is composed of a ground radar, a missile launcher, a generator and a command control unit for all communications, including with other army units. As an air defense, Patriot is effective at high altitudes, but also at lower levels,” says de Kruif.
Patriot’s radar can see what’s coming hundreds of kilometers away, track more than 50 enemy aircraft or missiles at a time, then direct eight missiles in a single volley at the most vulnerable targets. At enormous speed, about 5000 kilometers per hour, the enemy’s missiles are disabled. The Patriot system is completely mounted on vehicles and therefore highly mobile and difficult for the enemy to detect. Within two hours of a move, the device is ready to fire again. The missiles are stored ‘ready to travel’ in containers. You can only see a missile when it is fired. A Patriot missile is more than 5 meters long and has a diameter of 40 centimeters. Targets up to a height of 22 kilometers and more than 60 kilometers away can be shot down with the Patriot.
Too expensive for drones
One such Patriot missile costs 3.7 million euros, the launch installations cost 9.5 million euros each. De Kruif: ,,With such a unit you can protect a city like Arnhem. For a big city like Kiev, you need more.” Can patriots take care of a nation’s entire air force? None. Not to shoot down drones that cost a few thousand euros each, anyway. They can, but the missiles of the Patriot system, with a price of more than three million euros each, are too expensive for that.
On the other hand, they are excellent for upper airspace and shooting down helicopters, large drones, Iranian missiles or Russian cruise missiles. “A Patriot can actually do anything,” says De Kruif. “The Russians are also deploying a lot of cruise missiles fired both from Tupolevs and from the Black Sea from submarines. The Patriots offer very good defense against that as well. It will be difficult to seal off all of Ukraine though, I suspect they will be located around Kiev, but also in other population centers such as Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv.” .
It is not surprising that Zelensky is knocking on the door of Holland for the Patriots. The Netherlands is one of the few NATO countries that has the latest Patriot variant: with the maneuverable PAC-3 missile. It is also not strange that the Netherlands have to swallow before they say ‘yes’, says retired general Pieter Cobelens, who worked with the Patriots before becoming head of the military intelligence service MIVD. “We are talking about a system that is in short supply in NATO.” And in light of the enormous demand for weapons, purchasing new systems is not easy, says Cobelens. “What you give away now, you just don’t get back, which threatens to leave a hole in the Netherlands’ own air defense.”
This touches on concerns within the defense that the Netherlands is not giving away more than it can afford. “We ourselves need the Patriots to protect the port of Rotterdam or Vlissingen, for example, if the war gets further out of control,” defense analyst Rob de Wijk said. According to him, the Netherlands should not lose sight of its own security when giving weapons to Ukraine, even if the border cannot be clearly defined. As an air defense officer, Peter Wijninga from the Center for Strategic Studies in The Hague personally experienced how the Patriot was phased out in the armed forces. “We once had four systems. In 2011 came the cuts, two systems and 163 functions had to disappear. Then I told them not to do it, because then you might as well get rid of everything. You can’t do anything with two systems. As a compromise, one system was kept in reserve without a crew.”
Now a situation threatens again where Holland has too few Patriots left for his own deployment. “I hope that the Netherlands will not deliver a complete system, but parts. For example, two launchers or separate missiles. They are easy to fit into the German or American system.”