Italian Defense Minister Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said the United States should respect the commitment it made to a tri-national missile defense program it began several years ago with Italy and Germany.
If the United States walked away from the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) now, it would leave its two allies, who have made substantial financial investments, with their hands tied, Di Paola said, speaking April 30 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“There was a commitment, which has been taken by the three sides together, and each one of the sides should respect that commitment,” Di Paola said.
“We are asking the United States to respect its commitment and we will respect ours.”
MEADS was originally designed to replace the Patriot systems in the United States and Germany and the Nike Hercules system in Italy.
In February 2011, the Pentagon announced that it had decided not to purchase and field the missile defense system, but that it would finish out the design and development (D&D) phase of the program under the current memorandum of understanding.
To complete the D&D phase of the program, the United States would need to pay roughly $804 million between 2011 and 2013.
The Pentagon’s plan hit a roadblock in Congress, where lawmakers are less than thrilled to make such a large investment in a system the United States does not intend to buy.
According to the Pentagon, the United States has already spent $1.5 billion on the program.
While the 2013 defense authorization bill is still in its very early stages, Republican lawmakers in the House have already included language that would prohibit the Pentagon from spending any money on MEADS in 2013.
The program is managed by NATO, while Lockheed Martin leads MEADS International, the industry team developing the system for the three countries.
Di Paola said he understands that from a U.S. perspective, MEADS is just one of several systems.
However, the United States should respect that Germany and Italy have made sizable contributions to the program for European standards, he said.
It is especially important for the United States not to walk away from the program early, because MEADS will be part of the European contribution to missile defense, Di Paola said.
The Italian defense minister said he hopes the United States sees the program through the end of its concept phase.
“At that point, you will be free and we, the European partners, can decide whether to go forward,” Di Paola said.