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Armed Services panel nudges Pentagon toward more Patriot batteries

The Defense Department has 15 of the missile defense systems but representatives believe it could use more

A Patriot antimissile system points east at Rzeszow Jasionska airport in Poland in March.
A Patriot antimissile system points east at Rzeszow Jasionska airport in Poland in March. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

With an eye toward the use of precision-guided missiles in the conflict in Ukraine, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee plans to ask the Pentagon to reassess whether it needs more of the systems that can shoot them down.

The U.S. currently has 15 Patriot batteries, high-end missile defense systems capable of stopping incoming barrages as well as hostile aircraft. The recent $40 billion in Ukraine aid included funding for components for a 16th battery, but some committee members still question whether the U.S. might need more, a committee aide said, speaking on background ahead of Wednesday’s markup of the panel’s portion of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

“Ukraine has been a good example of the critical importance that integrated air missile defense plays in a conflict,” the aide said.

The Strategic Forces Subcommittee released the draft of its portion of the NDAA on Tuesday, which the subcommittee will mark up on Wednesday. The full committee will mark up the complete bill during a daylong session on June 22.

The bill’s language would require the secretary of the Army to submit a report to Congress within 150 days of enactment on the service’s latest thinking on the number of Patriot batteries needed.

Defenses against hypersonics

The bill would also require the secretary of Defense to update lawmakers by March 1, 2023, on the Pentagon’s latest “comprehensive, layered strategy” to defend against hypersonic missiles.

Additional options, beyond the current glide-phase interceptor, which targets the incoming missile with another missile, could include directed energy, microwave systems and cyber capabilities, a second aide said.

“As these technologies mature, the strategy would hope to synchronize them across the portfolio,” the second aide said.

The subcommittee’s portion of the bill does not touch upon the B-83 nuclear bomb, which the Biden administration hopes to retire, or the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, an option developed during the Trump administration, but which saw its funding zeroed out in the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget request.

The full committee will consider those issues, if they are addressed at all this year, the first aide said.

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