ROME and BONN - Germany and the U.S. no longer plan to produce the trinational MEADS anti-missile system, while Italy is now considering its next step.
Suffering from rising costs and a lack of enthusiasm by the U.S. Army to see the program through, MEADS received a potentially mortal blow on Feb. 11 when the Pentagon announced it would wrap up the current design and development phase, but could no longer afford to purchase and field it.
Five days later, German defense department officials said they would "only complete the MEADS design and development phase to 2013 under the current budget limits."
"At the moment, it is not foreseen that there will be any procurement of the system," a German spokesman said.
An airliftable weapon meant to replace the Patriot anti-missile system, MEADS is 58 percent funded by the United States, 25 percent by Germany, and 17 percent by Italy. Lockheed Martin leads an industrial team including the Italian and German units of European missile house MBDA.
The German spokesman said the MEADS program had produced useful results, citing the effort to integrate Germany's IRIS-T missile into the system as an interceptor alongside the PAC-3 missile.
"Research and development results, which include the development of the surface-launched version of the IRIS air-to-air missile, the IRIS-T SL, will be secured for Germany's future activities in this sector," he said.
The spokesman also said German officials would develop plans for a new German air defense system and would soon talk with Italian colleagues about the idea.
In a statement released in Rome on Feb. 18, Italy's chief procurement officer said Italy would now take stock.
"It was not a surprise; our ally has always kept us informed of the difficult decision-making process underway," said Gen. Claudio Debertolis. "We appreciate the decision to maintain funding during the development phase, which is intended to give the other nations the possibility of moving on alone. We note that the program has already given us a large amount of know-how and technology we can use. Now we will consult with Germany. The decision to push on will now obviously be subject to new considerations about priorities, given that three-way cooperation had been decided upon and confirmed."
Pentagon officials, in a Feb. 14 statement explaining the decision not to acquire MEADS, noted that a 2004 design and development plan had envisioned MEADS production to start in 2014. A restructuring plan discussed in November would have added 30 months to the 110-month program and at least $974 million in funding for 2012-17. Production would have begun no earlier than 2018, the statement said.
The Pentagon said it would now request development work stick to the costs and schedule laid down in 2004, wrapping up in 2014 with a cost ceiling of $4 billion in 2004 dollars.
"Funding MEADS up to the existing [memorandum of understanding] cost ceiling," instead of canceling the program immediately, "enables all partners to harvest technology from large investment to date," even if production will not go ahead, said the Pentagon. "This work would place the D&D program on stable footing should Germany and Italy wish to continue a MEADS development and production effort after the current MOU funding is expended. The same options would be available to the U.S. if its air defense plans should change."
Lockheed Martin appeared to be optimistic that Italy and Germany could yet decide to produce MEADS, claiming it was "committed to supporting our European industrial partners and advancing the MEADS system beyond the D&D program, and it is our desire to see this needed capability reach deployment."
As the program was frozen in Washington, MEADS officials were planning important hardware integration tests in Italy, including the hooking up for the first time of the battle management system, fire control radar and launcher. No missiles will be loaded yet, and the system will be put in practice drawing a bead on simulated and real targets including Italian Air Force aircraft, said Marty Coyne, MEADS business development manager at Lockheed Martin.
In December, the first launcher was delivered by MBDA Germany. Designed to carry eight PAC-3 missiles, the launcher is now being integrated with the first Battle Manager, supplied by MBDA Italy, which is now readying five more ahead of next year's flight tests at White Sands in New Mexico.
Following the development-funding cut, the flight test program "will not be as lengthy and robust as planned," Coyne said. "But we are determined to get to the flight test program and prove the capability."
The fire control radar, built in Germany using more than 10,000 Transmit Receive modules supplied by EADS, will arrive at Pratica di Mare this spring, with a 40-strong team handling integration, Coyne said.
Lockheed Martin is meanwhile preparing the first surveillance radar for the system at its facility in Syracuse, N.Y.
In early 2012, integration will move to the Cazenovia, N.Y., test range.
One analyst said the funding supplied by Italy and Germany was one of the reasons that the U.S. Army had not canceled MEADS up until now.
"Generally the money has been put back because the program is also funded by Italy and Germany," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, Arlington, Va.
But this month's statement from the Pentagon indicated that logic no longer applies.
"International cooperative programs are just one means of trans-Atlantic defense industry interaction and are increasingly less statistically relevant as trade continues to open on both sides of the Atlantic and global supply chains become more robust," it said.
Between 2006 and 2008, only 6 percent of total U.S. procurement awards were provided to "cooperative programs," but European suppliers still made up 28 percent of contracts that were awarded through full and open competition, it said.
Kate Brannen contributed to this report from Washington.