Ukraine, Mideast conflicts place renewed pressure on Patriot units

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army worked for the better part of a decade to reduce the pressure on troops

Ukraine, Mideast conflicts place renewed pressure on Patriot units

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army worked for the better part of a decade to reduce the pressure on troops operating Patriot air defense systems, but the increasing demand for the technology has mostly undone that progress, according to the service’s director of institutional planning for fires and joint capabilities.

“We were on a glide path to improve the dwell readiness” for Patriot units, Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey said during a Dec. 7 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces panel, referring to the ratio between the amount of time Patriot air defenders spend at home and on deployment.

The Senate later that day confirmed Gainey as the Army’s new Space and Missile Defense Command leader, allowing him to pin on a third star.

Patriot units are again spending less time at home, Gainey warned. “Right now, all of our Patriot units are below the secretary of defense’s red line of deploy one year, return home for two years. And so that’s having a strain on the force,” he said.

The Army took measures to improve Patriot units’ dwell time, and the Joint Staff was seeking ways to reduce demand. “However, the global demand against those units has fallen back below the one-to-two red line and continues to be a challenge,” Gainey said.

Army leadership is now looking at “other levers to pull” to try to address the challenge with the Patriot force, considered to have the highest operational tempo in the service, he added.

The Army already announced its plan to build an additional battalion, but that won’t improve operational tempo, Gen. James Rainey, the head of Army Futures Command, said Dec. 13 at an Association of the U.S. Army event.

“Any air defender in the Army right now is running sub one-to-one,” Rainey said, referring to the ratio between deployment and time at home.

Gainey did note force retention for air defenders is high. “Our largest air and missile defense formation” — the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command based at Fort Bliss, Texas — “leads [Army Forces Command]’s division-size element in retention, and all of our units are at the Army goals for retention.”

Sustaining Patriot missile capacity will prove challenging amid the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war as well as expanding conflict in the Middle East, Doug Bush, the Army’s acquisition chief, said at a Defense One conference on Dec. 7

The Army hopes Congress approves a supplemental funding request with $750 million to enable a Patriot missile production capacity increase by more than a hundred a year beyond current capacity — from 550 to roughly 650 missiles.

“The draw on Patriot right now,” Bush said, “has been manageable for Ukraine because they have other systems that are helping as well.”

But “the long-term challenge of just having Patriot missiles for a Pacific scenario is the other reason we are asking Congress for support of that investment,” he added.

“If Congress approves it, that’ll definitely improve our situation over time so we can build up our stocks faster, but we have concerns. We’re providing stuff out of stock. The build-back times is the concern, hence the ask. We’re hopeful Congress will support that. If they do, that’ll help a lot.”

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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