Israeli missile launch: What is the Patriot Missile Defense System?

Credit: David Silverman

Credit: David Silverman

The Israeli military deployed its missile defense system Thursday to intercept a drone fired from Syria, officials said.

According to The Associated Press, the incident came after Syria accused Israel of attacking a military installation near Damascus International Airport early Thursday.

While Israel has several defense systems, military officials used the country’s aging Patriot Missile Defense System in Thursday’s incident.

What does the latest Patriot Missile Defense System do?

Here’s a quick look.

What was it designed for?
According to the U.S. Army, the latest version of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System is designed to detect, track and destroy unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), cruise missiles and short-range or tactical ballistic missiles.

What weapon is used in the system?
The U.S. Army's Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile, the newest weapon in the Patriot arsenal, is used in the system. 

How does it work?
The system, guided by computers, launches Patriot missiles that seek out and destroy targets by slamming into them and exploding.

What does the missile contain?
The PAC-3 Missile has a solid propellant rocket motor, 180 small-attitude control motors, a radar seeker, aerodynamic controls and an inertial guidance system, according to

What makes them "mobile?"
The missiles are transported by and launched from the M901 launching station, which is mounted on a semitrailer and towed by a tractor. The tractor can carry up to 16 PAC-3 missiles. 

Who operates it?
A crew of three operators analyzes incoming threats and responds by launching missiles if necessary.

How does the missile find its target?
The PAC-3 missile is directed by a computer to an intercept point. Motors guide the missile directly into the incoming target.

Which countries have the systems?
The Patriot Missile Defense System is in service (or on order) in the Republic of China (Taiwan), Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Spain. Poland will soon be getting the system. South Korea purchased a secondhand system from Germany.

Is it the main weapons system in Israel?
The county has come to rely on its "Iron Dome" system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and its "Arrow" system, which was built to intercept ballistic missiles outside the Earth's atmosphere. The new "David's Sling" missile defense system was introduced earlier this month. It is designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and medium- to long-range rockets.

Has Israel used the Patriot system before?
Yes, it has. Israel's system is an older version of the Patriot missile defense system. The last time the country used it was in July 2016, when missiles were fired at a drone believed to have been launched from Syria. Both missiles missed the drone.

What does it cost?
Each MIM-104F Patriot PAC-3 missile costs around $3.4 million. The launcher costs $3.8 million.

(Sources: U.S. Army;; The Associated Press)