Three of the eight radars at eight Patriot missile batteries have been suspended for a few months due to malfunction, it emerged on Sunday. Once they break down, radars become incapable of guiding Patriot missiles toward targets. Simply put, malfunctioning radars render the Patriot missile system useless.
The Patriot missiles, a surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting enemy aircraft or missiles in midair, were deployed under the Air Force's "SAM-X" next-generation air-defense missile project and are the South Korean military's key air-defense weapons.
The military spent W1.36 trillion (US$1=W1,109) on the deployment of Patriot missiles at eight batteries in 2009 in efforts to establish a Korean air and missile defense system capable of intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles. Each Patriot battery consists of six missile launch pads and a radar.
But according to Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Jang-soo, three of the eight target tracking radars are out of service -- one since its power supply broke down in March; another after its compressor broke down in April; and the third after its "identification, friend or foe" system broke down in March and its frequency generator went out of order in June.
Of 32,149 Patriot system parts it intended to acquire from Germany, the military had procured only 10 percent or 3,142 parts by July. It also lacks a proper maintenance float program in place.
"We plan to put the radars into full operation by early next year," an Air Force spokesman said. "But problems can occur because they are now in limited operation. We're going to import parts to replace the ones that caused the breakdowns by year's end."
The Air Force had been wanting to procure Patriot missiles since the mid-1980s, but the plan was delayed by budget problems. After some twists and turns, it began buying cheap second-hand Patriot missiles from the German military in 2006. To build a complete Patriot system of its own, the Air Force used the PAC-2 GEM+ system, which has limited intercept capabilities, for the launch pads and the new U.S.-made PAC-3 system for ground control. Through this "patch-up," the Air Force was able to save nearly W1 trillion, but it has faced persistent problems including the current debacle, experts believe.
Earlier, it was revealed that counter-battery radars used to locate the sources of North Korean long-range artillery fire also break down often, seriously hampering the South's defenses.
The old counter-battery radar TPQ-36 system broke down 98 times and the newer TPQ-37 60 times over the past five years.