For the past year and a half, a Fort Bliss Patriot battalion has been at the forefront of the Army’s most sweeping upgrade of that air-defense system in at least two decades.
The 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment spent countless hours out in the field testing upgrades to the Patriot system’s software, hardware, other equipment and missiles.
“It was like going from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 8,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Scott McLellan. “It significantly enhances our capability.”
The upgrades counter advances being made by potential enemies, said McLellan, from Katonah, N.Y.
The improvements added capabilities to protect against cyber and electronic warfare and improved the system’s radar, he added.
The modernization mission ended in November, and the 3-43 ADA was one of three Patriot battalions to be fielded the upgraded equipment. The other two are stationed in South Korea.
Over the next few years, the other Patriot battalions across the Army will get the upgrades too, McLellan said.
During the modernization mission, the Legion Battalion did three battalion-level training exercises at Fort Bliss to test the upgrades and did four live fires — three at White Sands Missile Range and one at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific.
“Since we started this, we have shot 15 Patriot missiles in a 17-month span,” McLellan said. “I don’t know of a unit that has ever shot more.”
One of the highlights of the modernization mission was going on a tactical road march to Yuma, Ariz., in fall 2016.
The battalion drove about 100 vehicles, including most of its Patriot equipment, more than 550 miles each way to and from Yuma.
There at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the Barry Goldwater Air Force Bombing Range, the battalion tested the new equipment and upgrades against live aircraft in a large-scale exercise with the Marines.
The battalion also spent thousands of hours out in the Fort Bliss training area and at White Sands doing reliability tests on the upgrades and provided feedback to the Army and its contractors on what worked and what didn’t work, McLellan said.
In addition, the unit helped to write the Army’s manuals on how to use and maintain the newly upgraded system, he said.
Taking part in the modernization effort also made the Legion Battalion a better unit overall and enhanced its readiness, McLellan said.
“It has gotten this battalion to be the most capable and most ready Patriot battalion in the force, in my humble opinion,” he said.
The unit’s maintenance soldiers also got valuable experience learning how to fix and maintain the new equipment, McLellan said.
Maj. Ed O’Connell, the battalion’s operations officer from Long Island, N.Y., said participating in the modernization mission made the Legion Battalion a better overall unit.
The battalion took advantage of all its field time to sharpen its other skills, he said.
It practiced setting up its battlefield headquarters, sustaining itself and running convoys, among other tasks, O’Connell said.
The Legion Battalion has multiple exercises planned during the coming year to maintain its level of readiness, he added.
The upgrades also will have a big impact across the air defense branch and the Army, O’Connell said.
“Potential adversaries have modified their missiles to beat Patriot,” O’Connell said. “This was necessary to match or stay ahead of other nations’ capabilities.”
© 2018 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.