The United States on Friday authorized the deployment of 400 troops for two Patriot missile-defense batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria, a move that could put American forces near the front lines of the Arab country’s escalating civil war.
The Army has five air defense artillery brigades, which operate the defensive weapons system, and one is at Fort Hood. While none of its troops will be deploying to support the mission in Turkey, subject matter experts with the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade were able to explain the capabilities of the batteries.
A Patriot battery is purely a defensive system, designed to protect certain areas, such as populated regions or key assets, against ballistic missiles, said Capt. Stefanie R. Stone, a brigade staff member.
“A lot of our allies feel safer when the Patriot is present,” she said. “It’s not used very often, and that’s a good thing.”
A Patriot weapons system consists of a control station, radar, a generator, an antenna master group and a launcher, said Capt. John F. Gould, also on the brigade staff. A battery is six launchers with one of each of the other elements. The launchers only fire surface-to-air.
“It’s placed wherever we need to protect against a threat,” he said. “Most people remember it from the first Gulf War.”
Known as the “Lightning” Brigade, the unit is unique to Fort Hood. With three Patriot battalions, the brigade serves a different role from that of other units. It currently has one company deployed to Afghanistan.
Gould said what drew him to air defense was the ability it provides a young soldier to make a difference.
“It’s a small part of the Army, and soldiers are able to contribute at a younger age to something much bigger than themselves,” he said.
The Patriot batteries headed to Turkey began to arrive Tuesday, but the Army has not announced what units will man them.
Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, more than 41,000 Syrians have been killed and an additional 1.2 million have been forced from their homes, according to opposition and U.N. estimates.
Turkey so far has opened its doors to more than 210,000 refugees. As the country becomes a haven, Turkey is saddled with a drop in trade and the cost of housing refugees as fears escalate that Syria may launch a punitive missile attack.
Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters the U.S. troops operating the Patriots will be tasked with a defensive mission.
The surface-to-air missiles could technically be used to enforce a no-fly zone over northern Syria, but NATO officials have stressed they are not gearing up for such a move, which would mark a sharp escalation in the West’s involvement in Syria’s conflict.
Germany and the Netherlands each offered to deploy two Patriot batteries to Turkey. The missiles should be operational by Feb. 1, a Turkish official said.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.