Second, these modernization costs are being shared by a number of allies who have bought the Patriot missile system. A total of twelve nations now have Patriot as the cornerstone of their air- and missile-defense architectures, and this foreign-partner investment helps keep costs low for our military and the U.S. taxpayer. As Rowe points out:
Nearly a dozen partner nations have followed our path and fielded the Patriot system to meet their theater air and missile defense requirements. These partners have sought and agreed to modernization as well as critically needed common operating standards to protect our coalition forces.
What continues to cause some alarm, however, is that the Pentagon has yet to fully commit funding to a full Patriot-modernization plan that would allow the missile system to keep pace with emerging threats over the next several decades. Until this year, the Department of Defense kept spending precious resources on MEADS, even though the system would never be used by U.S. troops.
Upgrading defense systems is not a one-and-done proposition. Even with proven systems, our military must continually plan for the next generation of threats as our enemies acquire more and more sophisticated weapons.
If we are to give our combatant commanders what they need to protect our war fighters, assets, and allies, Congress and the Pentagon must make theater missile defense priority No. 1. That means ongoing modernization of the combat-proven Patriot, as well as a more robust inventory of Patriot and THAAD batteries.
Without this commitment, the U.S. military may fall victim to what Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation in 2011 called the “unacceptable squeeze on defense modernization”:
The implications of the coming squeeze on defense modernization under the existing spending caps should cause great alarm for all concerned, particularly since it comes on the heels of the “procurement holiday” of the 1990s. The result will be a military that lacks the modern weapons and equipment it needs, loses its technological edge over future enemies, and finds itself dependent on a seriously eroded defense industrial base.
Congress and the Pentagon owe it to our troops to ensure that this is one prediction that never comes true.
— Colonel John Venable (USAF, Ret.) led a group composed of 1,100 personnel and $5 billion in aircraft assets flying combat missions for a year in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He also served as commander and demonstration leader of the USAF Thunderbirds.