Italy's defense minister and a German legislator have sent letters to top U.S. officials, urging the U.S. to continue funding the Medium Extended Air Defense System. (LOCKHEED MARTIN)
ROME — Italian and German officials have warned U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that a U.S. plan to kill off development of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) would seriously damage trans-Atlantic ties.
The U.S. has already decided not to purchase the theater-based missile defense system it developed with Germany and Italy. But it had agreed to fund the program through the “Proof of Concept” phase in 2014, which would allow technologies to be harvested, even if the system were not purchased.
Plans changed, however, when the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 required the termination of MEADS before then, with no funding for 2013.
Three congressional committees have turned down the Obama administration’s request for $400 million to complete testing, although the Senate Appropriations Committee is yet to vote on the measure.
In a letter to Panetta seen by Defense News, Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo di Paola said the U.S. decision is “causing great concern” in Italy and Germany.
“Three committees have zeroed the expected U.S. financial contribution for the year 2013, and this virtually means the termination of the program even before the conclusion of the internationally agreed Design and Development phase,” he wrote.
The defense minister urges Panetta to intercede with the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore the funding, warning that the design and development results would be “fundamental” to Italy’s contribution to NATO missile defense work. The MEADS program continues to have “an incredibly relevant political aspect” as regards trans-Atlantic cooperation, he added.
A second letter, dated June 13, sent by German Bundestag member Ernst-Reinhard Beck to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., contains more forceful language.
Beck asks how the U.S. can demand Europe contribute to missile defense efforts while it bails out of a “prime example” of trans-Atlantic cooperation.
“This is critically important to the U.S. relationship with Germany, Italy and its NATO alliance as a whole,” states the letter, which has been seen by Defense News.
If the U.S., as planned, scraps its 2013 funding for MEADS, thus “breaking our transatlantic agreement,” writes Beck, it “will probably cause significant financial and national security relationship challenges between trusted partners in the future.
“The U.S. Congress must be very aware that a pull-out on its final MEADS commitment has broad implications, and it will have long-term impacts on other multinational cooperative projects,” Beck writes.
Designed to replace the Patriot anti-missile system, the air-transportable MEADS is 58 percent funded by the U.S., with Germany and Italy funding 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Lockheed Martin leads an industrial team that includes the Italian and German units of European missile house MBDA.
Since the news last year that the U.S. would not buy MEADS, Germany and Italy have begun to plan how they can derive benefits from the technologies contained in the system’s radar, battle management system and launcher.