A Review of the Postol and Lewis Evaluation of the White Sands Missile Range Evaluation of the Suitability of TV Video Tapes to Evaluate Patriot Performance During the Gulf War

INSIDE THE ARMY - November 16, 1992, pages 7-9

by Peter D. Zimmerman

For more than 18 months, since April 1991, MIT Professor Theodore Postol has been conducting a campaign to attempt to prove that the Patriot's performance in Desert Storm "may have been an almost total failure." The latest in these attempts is his "evaluation" of a report, prepared by the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) Army Materiel Test and Evaluation Directorate, which examined the use of TV video tapes to assess Patriot performance in Desert Storm. The bottom line of WSMR's study was that "using the videos did not allow us to conclusively determine whether a Patriot intercepted or missed a Scud target, what the miss distance was, where on the Scud an intercept occurred, or what the effect was on the Scud warhead." Since these videos formed the cornerstone of Postol's claims of Patriot failure, he has now gone to great lengths to try to discredit the WSMR findings. However, he is not successful and in fact spends more time restating his own case, which Steve Hildreth, a senior analyst from the Congressional Research Service, previously described as "worthless," than finding any substantive fault with the WSMR analyses.

Before examining the flaws in Postol's latest evaluation, it is useful to examine the history of his prior "analyses," to put into context what he now claims. He became interested in Patriot's performance in the Gulf when what appeared to be Army claims of 90+ percent success rates seemed too good to be true. In this regard, some of the Army's wounds in the battle of Patriot success statistics were, in part, self inflicted. Early Army reports of Patriot performance, issued before any detailed analyses had been performed, centered around what the Army called "intercepts" - defined as being engagements where the Patriot detected and tracked the target, launched a missile, guided it to a continually updated intercept point and detonated the Patriot warhead. Although this definition did not necessarily mean that the enemy missile had been killed, the distinction was lost on many people, who tended to accept these reports using the ordinary interpretation of the word intercept - that the target was dead. The debate of the last 18 months might have been avoided had the Army simply used ordinary terminology to characterize what they knew, prior to the first statements that were approved on actual success rates in April 1991.

Postol's campaign has been marked by a continual shifting and change in his underlying arguments, as one by one his analyses have been discredited.