The star of Gulf War I has gotten a face lift and is being prepped for a leading role in the sequel. But it's unclear whether the Patriot missile system will be able to improve much in 2003 on its two-left-feet performance of 1991.To defense analysts, the original Patriots' stumbles were no surprise."They were never designed to take out missiles," said Victoria Samson, a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. "They were built to take out airplanes, which are considerably slower-flying."The old Patriot didn't hit its target directly. Instead, it detonated a blast fragmentation warhead nearby.The new version of the Patriot, the PAC-3, is an altogether different species from its predecessor. In defense jargon, it's a "hit-to-kill" weapon -- meaning it actually strikes its target, rather than just exploding in the neighborhood. The missiles use rocket motors, not little wings, to steer. And each missile has its own built-in radar to help it determine a target's location in flight; the old Patriots have to rely almost solely on ground-based radar.But these improvements haven't necessarily lead to drastically better performance, yet. Early-stage developmental trials went well -- the Patriots hit their targets 10 out of 11 times. But more realistic operational assessments were less than stellar, with only two "kills" in seven tries.My Wired News story has more details on the inner workings -- and track record -- of the new Patriots.THERE'S MORE: One Defense Tech reader says that the original Patriot was actually "designed for missle defense, but it was recast as an anti-aircraft missile when the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) treaty came into effect."
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