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How did this wind up in Ybor?
No one, military or other, seems to know where it's from.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
Published July 19, 2007
An old Patriot PAC-2 missile was found July 11 at Scrap All, an Ybor City scrap metal business. Neither propulsion material nor explosives were found, and experts said it may have been a training model.
[Courtesy of MacDill Air Force Base]
A Patriot missile is launched. A surface-to-air weapon, it was initially developed for use against aircraft and later against ballistic missiles. The Patriot is used by the U.S. Army and several other countries.
One day last week, puzzled workers at Scrap All Inc., a scrap metal yard in Ybor City, noticed an odd-looking object in a heap of junk. They thought it was a beat-up torpedo. Police were called.
Tampa officers arrived and quickly called explosives experts at MacDill Air Force Base. This was no torpedo.
It was a Patriot missile.
In what is undoubtedly one of the oddest local junk yard finds, MacDill's ordnance disposal team confirmed the July 11 find was indeed a Patriot, minus "the part on top that goes boom," Lt. Omar Villarreal, a MacDill spokesman, said Wednesday.
For munitions purists, that would be the warhead.
Airman Lucas Mefford, a member of MacDill's ordnance team, said the missile still had its rocket motor and guidance system. He said it appears to have been a training model.
"It's pretty rare to find a Patriot," Mefford said. That's rare, as in never. MacDill officials say they can't ever recall another report of a Patriot turning up on private property.
"When we get calls from people," Mefford said, "they tend to find old water heaters that look like missiles."
How a Patriot missile made its way to an Ybor metal scrap yard remains a mystery.
Scrap All officials declined to comment. The people who have made Patriots since the 1970s, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, said it's not theirs. And the U.S. Army, which buys and uses the missiles, would not comment. Patriots are also sold to allied nations.
Not that MacDill is looking for the Patriot's owner, who might be identified through a serial number usually stamped on all missiles.
Villarreal said the missile is considered harmless, surplus garbage with little value and no classified parts.
"If it was something that could have harmed somebody, I guarantee we'd be tracing where it came from," he said. "It's just useless junk."
The missile part found at the scrap yard on Fourth Avenue was about 10 feet long and was marked "inert," signifying that it wasn't explosive. Training models typically never contain explosives or propellants of any type.
"It was bone-dry," Villarreal said.
A picture of the missile was sent by the St. Petersburg Times to missile expert Ted Postol, a professor of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said the object was the propulsion section of a PAC-2 Patriot, which was made by Raytheon. The PAC-2's are no longer in production, though the Army still has them in its arsenal.
Without explosives or propellant, Postol said, "It's really just a piece of junk."
A PAC-2 right off the assembly line, and with a working warhead, is worth about $1-million, though a training model would be worth far less. The newer PAC-3 Patriot is much more expensive.
The PAC-2 is an antiballistic missile that was used during the first Gulf War, especially to destroy Scud missiles.
John Pike, an expert in missile systems for GlobalSecurity.org, a Web site specializing in security issues, said finding even a training Patriot is unheard of.
"They should have grabbed that puppy and put it on eBay," Pike said. "People would pay a lot of money for it. I wish I had found it. It's a real collector's item. Someone might have wanted to clean it up and put it in front of their gun shop."
Alas, Scrap All didn't want anything to do with it. MacDill took the missile off its hands and will use it to train its explosives team.