In a testy exchange on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was forced to defend the Pentagon's decision to approve $380 million to fund the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS,shown here) through the remainder of this fiscal year, even though the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited funding for the program. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — The reaction to the Pentagon’s decision to continue to fund a controversial missile defense program that the Army has said it plans to defund after this year has been swift, and may be gaining some traction.
In a testy exchange on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was forced to defend the Pentagon’s decision to approve $380 million to fund the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) through the remainder of this fiscal year, even though the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibited funding for the program.
The money was included in the continuing resolution (CR) passed last month by Congress, however.
A joint venture between the U.S., Italy, and Germany, the MEADS program has developed slowly and has drawn the ire of lawmakers, especially after the U.S. Army announced two years ago that once its current obligations to its allies ran out at the end of 2013, it would walk away from the unfinished program while harvesting what technologies it could.
Pressed by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Hagel said, “I’m not here to defend MEADS,” but “according to our office of general counsel, I asked for legal advice on this, and they told me that we’re obligated to finish that contract.”
Shuster shot back that “I respectfully think you need to get some new lawyers,” and that “it is foolish for us to be spending almost $400 million on a system that nobody is going to procure.”
In addition to sparring with the defense secretary, Shuster also introduced a bill on Thursday in the hopes of putting a halt to the continued funding of MEADS, a move that followed the example of his colleagues Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Senator Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who offered similar legislation in the Senate earlier in the week.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to keep paying for a failed weapons program that our troops will never use,” Ayotte said in an April 10 statement. “There is near unanimous support in the Senate for cutting funding for the ‘missile to nowhere,’ and the legislation I’m introducing will better support our troops,” she wrote.
The program is managed by MEADS International, a consortium of international defense firms led by Lockheed Martin.
In an April 11 statement, Shuster wrote that “MEADS is a failure, and we can no longer afford to continue spending millions of dollars on a program that DoD has stated they have no intention of completing.”
Shuster’s legislation would reprogram the $380 million “to other missile defense programs and projects” being funded by the Pentagon, according to text of the bill.
In a letter sent to his Senate colleagues on April 10, Shuster wrote that “in a time when the international environment continues down the path of austerity, with nations like North Korea threatening use of their missile capabilities, our national security relies on our strong missile defense programs that are proven and effective.”
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said that while countries like Iran and North Korea continue to work toward developing longer range missiles that one day would reach the continental U.S., it is time the Pentagon and the Obama administration “admit that MEADS is a waste of important financial resources, which could be better utilized in defense of our nation.”
Fellow co-sponsor Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., added that “the military is throwing taxpayer dollars at a flawed missile defense system that they have no intent on actually purchasing, let alone using.”