LONDON — Lockheed Martin and MBDA Deutschland are expecting to sign a contract with Germany next year to produce the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System (MEADS) and with that stamp of approval the pair is setting their sights higher.
"We think that MEADS has the opportunity to be the NATO air and missile defense system," Marty Coyne, Lockheed Martin's MEADS director, told a few reporters at DSEI.
And the market for modernized air and missile defense capability is a gold mine. "We estimate it conservatively at $100 billion dollars over the next 15 plus years," Coyne said.
"We also consider ourselves right now in the lead," he added, because the program is nearing the end of a 10-year development process that has culminated in three successful flight tests, bringing key components to a very high technology readiness level.
It wasn't long ago when the future of MEADS was hanging in the balance. MEADS started as a tri-national agreement among the US, Germany and Italy. The US eventually scrapped plans to buy the air and missile defense system meant to replace Raytheon's Patriot system, but agreed to spend $800 million to finish a two-year proof-of-concept phase that means all three countries can access the technology developed through the program.
The future of the program depended on Germany choosing the system because Italy, which wants MEADS, couldn’t afford to go it alone. So Lockheed and MBDA waited in suspense over more than a year for Germany to conduct an analysis before making a final decision on a system.
In June, Germany ultimately decided to finish developing and to produce MEADS TLVS, which will fire both longer-range PAC-3 missiles and German IRIS-T short-range missiles, Wolfram Lautner, head of communication at MBDA Deutschland, said.
Lockheed was also hoping to clinch a win in Poland in its "Wisla" competition for a new air and missile defense system, but because Poland decided it needed a system that was already fielded, the country dropped MEADS, which is nearing the end of its development.
But now that the MEADS program is moving full steam ahead toward an official contract signing with Germany by the end of 2016, the two companies that will co-produce the system are looking toward expansion.
"Germany will not be the only MEADS customer, it will be the first," Coyne said. "There always has to be a need and we are even more convinced after being at the show. The interest by all nations in Europe that come past our stand, that have stopped and wanted to get information about MEADS, is far greater than we ever expected."
Why the interest? The threat is real, Coyne said. "All countries in NATO Europe have recognized this threat of a combination of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and unmanned all coming from different directions and NATO has awoken to this."
Russia's incursion into Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea has only heightened the concern, according to Coyne, and there are only four NATO Europe countries — Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece — that have air and missile defense systems, but these "don't have a modern capability."
MEADS has a promising chance of becoming the system of choice in NATO, Coyne reasoned, because the rest of NATO Europe will look to Germany for solutions as the country is the designated NATO air and missile defense framework leader, "chartered with trying to develop a strategy to provide air and missile defense protection for all of NATO," he said.
Additionally, MEADS was the first developmental program to be integrated in a NATO exercise in 2013, Lautner noted.
The capability inherent in MEADS makes it well suited for NATO countries, even small ones with limited budgets. The system "not only meets these requirements that countries are looking for, but the discriminator is the open network architecture," Coyne said.
For example, he said, a country on the eastern border of Europe invests in a MEADS battle manager established network architecture and maybe adds one surveillance radar. The investment is "modest" but the country would have the foundation for modern capability and would be able to add components to a system over time. Meanwhile, a country like Germany with six to eight fire units could post them anywhere else in Europe when needed.
"Literally these networked components can be flown in and through plug-and-fight take that modest architecture, which is battle management, and turn it into a fire unit literally within 24 to 48 hours," Coyne said.
"That provides incredible defensive capability for NATO where all of these countries can participate. That is the type of interest we are seeing this week," according to Coyne. Lockheed normally gets inquiries about MEADS from countries with large budgets, but this time it was also visiting with countries with more modest budgets.
Meanwhile, the makers of MEADS are watching the US Army's impending plans for its future Integrated Air and Missile Defense System.
The Army has already picked Northrop Grumman's Integrated Battle Command System for the battle manager and the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhanced missile for the interceptor of choice, however the service has yet to decide how, what and when it will procure a launcher, and surveillance and fire control radars for the system.
An analysis of alternatives is expected to be completed by October or November, Coyne said.
"We feel confident that given the maturity of the sensors and the launcher and the fact that we will be in production then, there's a really good chance that the US will invest in the MEADS capability at the component level," Coyne said.
Coyne said there is a "high likelihood that a MEADS launcher will be chosen directly" for the Army's program, but a competition for the radar will start in 2017 or 2018, which will likely pit Raytheon and Lockheed against each other once again.
Since Poland has indicated it is interested in following the same path that the US Army chooses for its own air and missile defense system, the Poles may choose to develop their own open architecture system for the remaining six batteries after it purchases two Patriots from Raytheon.
The country is gearing up for an election that will likely result in a large regime change that would trigger reconsideration of Poland's recent procurement decision, according to Coyne.
"The Wisla program is by far the most expensive program in Polish history, much more expensive than the F-16 48 campaign, they bought 48 of them. It's natural for the new government to come in and take a look at it," Coyne said.