By Evgeny Damantsev
Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard
Recent information about the successful use of a kamikaze drone from the “Samad-1/3” family (and, perhaps, the tactical “Quds” cruise missiles too) against at least two M903 launchers of the Arabian surface-to-air missile system “Patriot PAC-3” covering the fortified area of the ground forces of Saudi Arabia and Sudanese hired paramilitary forces in the border province of Marib (near the contact line between the forces of the “Arabian coalition” and the army divisions of the Houthi Yemeni insurgents) became a subject of heated debates in the western and Russian military-analytical communities.
All the piquancy of the event is not so much that this “surprise” was made by the missile units of the “Ansar Allah” grouping on July 4th 2019 (during the celebration of US Independence Day), but in the lack of any information about bringing the “Patriot” SAM system battery into full combat readiness, providing an azimuthal corrective turn of inclined M903 launching units in the direction of the coming means of air attack, which in our case is the “Samad” kamikaze drones or the “Quds” tactical missiles. The news agencies “Free News”, “Al-Masdar News”, and “Military-industrial courier”, with reference to informed sources in the operational staff of “Ansar Allah” and the air force of Saudi Arabia, reported about this.
The reasons for the “silence” of the Arabian “Patriot” lie in the technological “dumbness” of the AN/MPQ-53/65 radars.
On the basis of the aforementioned circumstance it is possible to immediately draw several fundamental and interesting conclusions that are capable of serving excellent service to the specialists of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and the command of the Iranian Armed Forces in the development of various techniques of suppressing a SAM system from the family “Patriot PAC-2/3”. Considering the extremely difficult and almost unpredictable operational-tactical situation on the Yemen battlefield caused by sudden and high-intensity missile and artillery duels between the Houthis and the forces of the “Arabian coalition”, it is easy to assume that the multipurpose detection, illumination, and targeting radar station of AN/MPQ-53/65, which is a part of the “Patriot” that was subjected to a blow, was with a maximum share of probability on duty. Therefore, observation of the airspace over Yemen had to be carried out in the most missile-prone direction (for the purpose of the emergence of 8K14 operational-tactical ballistic missiles from the “Elbrus” complex, 9M79 “Tochka”, “Badr-1P”, and different types of cruise missiles and drones) in the azimuthal sector from +45° to -45 ° (an observation zone of 90 degrees), and in the elevation plane – from 1° to 73°.
At first sight, taking into account the awareness of the Arabian calculation of the “Patriot PAC-3” concerning the estimated flight trajectories of the Yemen operational tactical ballistic and cruise missiles, the MLRS AN/MPQ-53 (or its more modern modification AN/MPQ-65) had to be more than enough for the effective scanning of the assigned area of airspace and blocking any Houthi missile strikes; especially since the units of fire of the PAC-3 complexes can brag of the existence of the MIM-104F PAC-3MSE anti-missiles with the possibility of the over-the-horizon destruction of low-altitude hardly noticeable targets designated by the radar detecting E-3A planes, which the Saudi Arabian Royal Air Force has at its disposal. Nevertheless, virtuosos from the missiles units of “Ansar Allah” probed the technological shortcomings of the radars of the AN/MPQ-53/65 family and their working regime, then smashed to smithereens the myth made by the PR managers of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon about the highest level of survivability of PAC-3 during intensive massive missile strikes carried out by the enemy. What shortcomings can we talk about?
First of all, it is this rather big restriction on the minimum height of the targets accompanied during passage and “locked on” by AN/MPQ-53/65 radars, which totals 0.03 km (30m), while the illuminating and targeting radars 30H6E and 9C36 of the S-300PM1 and “Buk-M2” systems work on superlow-altitude objects operating at heights of 10-15m! This shortcoming is the peculiar “genetic disease” of stations from the MPQ-53 family connected to the minimum ray elevation angle of 1 degree, while the scanning elevation zone of other modern MLRS begins either with 0 degrees, or with negative indicators (-4 to -7 degrees): a bright example of this is the multi-height 96L6 detector and the low-altitude “Podlet-K1” detector installed on S-400 “Triumf” systems. Therefore, the drones and cruise missiles of the Houthis “sneaking” at the height of 15-20m could “bypass” the observation elevation zone of the MPQ-53. The situation could be saved by the radar detecting E-3A “Sentry” planes, which would give to “Patriot” a targeting calculation on the “Link-16” channel, but probably at that time no plane was carrying out combat duty.
Secondly, it is probable that at this time the Arabian “Patriot” calculation used the “sector search” mode for targets, when the phased array MPQ-53/65 passive scanning ray, guided by the 5161 ferrite phase shifters, processes only the most priority and missile-prone sectors (chosen by operators manually, according to the tactical situation) from the 32 provided by the software of the MPQ-53 radars and the AN/MSQ-132 command and control station. Such a mode could be chosen by the Saudis for work only against the “Ansar Allah” ballistic missiles, the descending trajectory arcs of which differ in their huge angles, while the low-altitude area appeared to be absolutely “unobservable”.
And lastly and thirdly, this is the inability of MLRS AN/MPQ-53/65 to work in the mode of an all-round radar detector (with 360-degree coverage of space in the azimuthal plane and the high frequency of updating information concerning the air situation thanks to the rotation of the antenna post), which the modern “Arabel” MLRS (a part of the SAMP-T surface-to-air missile system) or 50H6, which was added to the domestic new-generation SAM system S-350 “Vityaz”, are capable of. As a result, the absence in the structure of the “Patriot PAC-3” battery of an additional radar detector (for example, the mobile USA AN/TPS-75 “Tipsy” radar station) gave big difficulties for the command of the “Ansar Allah” missile brigades concerning activity in respect of creating difficult flight trajectories for the “Samad” drone and the “Quds” cruise missiles for the subsequent access to the AN/MPQ-65 radar in the side hemispheres (with angles of approach of more than 45 degrees) which do not enter the viewing field of the observation station any more; the result is evident.