The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is designed to bring generational change to missile defense. The reality is regrettably different, and the U.S. risks alienating key allies by reneging on long-term commitments seen as vital to U.S. and European security.
The Department of Defense is preparing early termination of MEADS after funding runs dry this year. Coincidentally, the cost to withdraw from the consortium at this late stage is an estimated liability of $348 million, equal to what is needed to complete the program. Germany and Italy have been vocal in condemning U.S. moves.
The partnership among the U.S, Germany and Italy was developed to replace the Patriot system in the U.S. and Germany and the Nike Hercules system in Italy. MEADS was to provide superior capabilities and cut logistical and operator costs.
Like so many groundbreaking projects, MEADS has experienced setbacks. The U.S. pledged $2.32 billion, with research overruns now requiring an additional $1 billion for the final design and development (D&D) phase. The DoD is now pursuing a reduced set of objectives. But is this the correct path?
The reduced program focuses on a shortened D&D phase. Late last year, a new proof of concept and modified contract with three key objectives was agreed to, as well as the development of fire units, two test firings against conventional air targets and ballistic missiles, the sharing of the hardware and software, and integration and simulation facilities. Both the U.S. and Germany have announced there would be no immediate MEADS procurement, with the program being left open-ended.
The threat of defense sequestration and constricting national security budgets has impaired financial dedication to the project. Of the remaining funds obligated to the MEADS program, Congress has dictated that no more than 25 percent be spent. The alternative is to withdraw from the program and budget for termination costs. Of the $390 million appropriated for MEADS in fiscal 2012, $85 million had been dedicated as of April.
The U.S. needs to allocate an additional $348 million to complete the “proof of concept.” The administration requested $400.9 million, but except for the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Congress has yet to approve funding. The U.S. risks significant damage to its reputation by failing to meet defense obligations to allies.
In an open letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., in March, German Ambassador Peter Ammon outlined concerns with the unilateral U.S. actions and warned of a loss of confidence. Germany has sunk billions of dollars into the project, and failure to complete the present MEADS objectives would be a blow to German defense planning, with substantial ongoing research data being squandered. Ammon explicitly stated that Germany will pursue financial satisfaction from the U.S for breach of contract. Italy has indicated it will do the same.
The DoD’s official position is that there is no contractual breach. Despite this, the chief of staff for the U.S. Army, Gen. Ray Odierno, sent an open letter to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee “urging Congressional support for the MEADS Proof of Concept funding in the FY 2013 President’s Budget request.”
MEADS should not yet be written off. Notwithstanding a bleak defense spending climate, Congress should stand by U.S. international defense obligations. The budget for both continuation and termination is fundamentally zero sum — there is no downside to complete this next-generation defense project.
Failure to do so will sully the nation’s international reputation and diminish its threat preparedness and that of key NATO allies
Gregory Keeley, vice president — Defense, Intelligence & Homeland Security Policy TechAmerica. He recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy.