Amid a significant use of missiles in Ukraine and the Middle East, customers are ramping up independent production of some of the weapons the Patriot air defense system can launch at an unprecedented scale.

The United States, where Patriot manufacturer RTX is based, is trying to contend with the rapid use of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles in its military operations while ensuring it has enough stockpiled in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. (Beijing considers the island nation a rogue province and has threatened to take it back by force.)

Missile production is increasing in the U.S., particularly the Lockheed Martin-made PAC-3 MSE missiles, the most capable variant. The company is making hundreds of them over the next two years.

Lockheed was building 350 MSE missiles a year in 2018 and was working to ramp up its production to 500 missiles a year prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Lockheed is now fully funded by the U.S. Army to build 550 missiles a year at its Camden, Arkansas, production line. In December, Lockheed hit a rate of 500 per year, Brenda Davidson, the company’s vice president of PAC-3 programs, told Defense News.

The business built a new 85,000-square-foot facility to make PAC-3 MSE missiles complete. The location features a variety of automated systems that make production a smoother and more efficient process, Davidson said.

While the Army has yet to fund another missile production increase, Lockheed decided in the latter part of 2022 that it would continue to invest internally to be able to build 650 a year. “Lockheed could see the demand out there,” Davidson said, adding that the company plans to hit that number in 2027.

Additionally, Lockheed has worked to stabilize its supply chain as much as possible, Davidson said. Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies the solid-rocket motor and is co-located in the same industrial park as Lockheed in Camden. Boeing supplies the seeker and has spent its own capital to keep up with demand.

Lockheed has also added a variety of second-source suppliers to mitigate risk in the supply chain, Davidson said, and is funding sub-tier suppliers to ensure they have the right tooling and test equipment — and are on the same page in terms of what the program requires.

It’s unclear if the U.S. Army sees a need to ramp up its Patriot missile production beyond 650 missiles a year. But Emily Harding, deputy director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Pentagon must encourage industry to continue investments that allow for the rapid production of much-needed missiles.

The department, she explained, should essentially tell industry: “Even if, let’s just say for a second, that peace breaks out across the globe tomorrow, we will still fulfill those contracts, so please build them.”

During a December defense conference in Washington, D.C., Army acquisition chief, Doug Bush, sent out a subtle signal, stating that while the draw on Patriot “has been manageable for Ukraine because they have other systems that are helping as well ... the long-term challenge of just having Patriot missiles for a Pacific scenario is the other reason we are asking Congress for support of that investment.”

The Army is “providing stuff out of stock. The build-back time is the concern,” he added.

The service needs supplemental funding, Bush said, in order to ramp up capability like the PAC-3 MSE weapon, noting the pending supplemental request to replenish American stockpiles of weapons and equipment sent to Ukraine includes $750 million to help Lockheed increase capacity by more than 100 a year over its current capacity.

The Senate passed a supplemental funding bill, which included a Ukraine aid package, that would contribute to ramping up the PAC-3 MSE capability, but the legislation is held up in the House.

While stalled during the first half of the fiscal year, the Army will be able to move forward to cement a multiyear contract for PAC-3 MSE missiles through the recent passage last month of the fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill.

Lockheed continues to place its bet through internal investments and work with suppliers that have long-lead times to deliver subcomponents and parts, Davidson said. And the company continuously talks to the Army about how much more the business could and should ramp up production, she added.

Even without Army funds, “demand for PAC-3 MSE just continues to increase,” Davidson said, noting the company signed six letters of approval last year from international customers.

Lockheed is also pitching the PAC-3 MSE to the U.S. Navy, and is spending $100 million to integrate the missile with the service’s Aegis combat system.

The company plans to test this spring whether it can fire the missiles from a vertical launch system tied into Aegis’s command-and-control technology and the SPY-1 radar. If successful, the hope is the Navy or Pentagon will conduct further tests that could lead to an initial operational capability on a ship.

Seeker supply, rocket motor boost

Boeing, which supplies the seeker for the PAC-3 MSE missile, is also spending money internally to align with Lockheed’s production increase plans, according to Jim Bryan, Boeing’s director of integrated air and missile defense programs.

While Boeing had made some incremental expansions, the company decided last year that “the demand signals were strong enough that [it] went out ahead of any government funding to invest” in a 35,000-square-foot factory expansion for its seekers, which equates to a 30% production capacity increase, Bryan said.

Bryan added that Boeing can build seekers to keep up with the planned 650 missile production rate using the facility it has, but the new location will feature added efficiencies such as the addition of a variety of automated systems to include inspections and robotic soldering.

The new facility also sets up the company to meet “much higher” demand signals above 650, Bryan added.

Meanwhile, orders for solid-rocket motors used on a wide variety of munitions is straining current suppliers Northrop Grumman and Aerojet Rocketdyne. However, the solid-rocket motor industry is growing with some newcomers.

Still, PAC-3 MSE production is weathering that flex in supply and demand, according to Davidson. Aerojet Rocketdyne makes the solid-rocket motors that go with PAC-3 MSE missiles right next door to Lockheed’s missile production line in Camden.

Aerojet opened a 51,000-square-foot facility in the same industrial park in 2022, where it is producing the PAC-3 MSE propulsion system. All of those manufacturing activities are under one roof and is positioning the company, acquired by L3Harris Technologies in July 2023, to significantly increase production rates, Aerojet Rocketdyne has said.

“As we continue to modernize and expand, we have been building in the ability to surge beyond current requirements, including adding manufacturing space and equipment,” Ross Niebergall, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s president, told Defense News in a written statement.

Aerojet has increased rocket motor production from about 70,000 in 2021 to 115,000 in 2023 — a more than 60% increase — the company said. These motors range from ones that can fit in the palm of your hand to the size of a small car. The increases, the company stressed, are tied to contract requirements.

Challenges still remain, Niebergall added. “Solid rocket motor production relies on several important components and materials, and regardless of the number of solid rocket motor providers that exist, we each require these same components and materials — and more significantly, the suppliers who produce them.”

The company is working to partner with suppliers to come up with solutions and ensure they have what they need in terms of capacity and flexibility to support production, according to Niebergall, and it is spending money to support suppliers.

“Thanks to significant internal and government investments, we’re expanding and modernizing key production locations across the country, investing in digital engineering, and pursuing collaborations,” Niebergall said.

Foreign contribution

Meanwhile, in Europe, countries have realized amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that they need a greater magazine depth for air defense forces, according to Tom Laliberty, Raytheon’s president of land and air defense systems.

Four NATO countries — Germany, Romania, Spain and the Netherlands — are coming together to buy 1,000 PAC-2 GEM-T missiles and will do a large amount of production in those countries, primarily Germany.

By pooling their resources, the countries get an economic order discount, and since they are being bought collectively, the missiles will be distributed based on priority of need, Laliberty explained.

Raytheon went under contract at the beginning of the year with NATO. While some components will still be made stateside, Raytheon is expanding its supplier base in Europe to build critical GEM-T components and will build an all-up round integration and test facility with Germany’s MBDA.

MBDA subsidiary Bayern-Chemie will become a new rocket motor manufacturer for the missile, and another company in Spain will build a new control actuation system.

Overall, Raytheon’s production of PAC-2 GEM-T missiles is ongoing, with a contracted backlog of approximately 1,500 missiles, including the NATO order and an estimated near-term demand of an additional 1,000 missiles. The company is producing roughly 20 missiles a month and, with the added capacity being through international initiatives, is on a path to reach 35 missiles a month by the end of 2027, according to Laliberty.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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