PARIS — Lockheed Martin executives are preparing for a stiff debate in Germany about the price tag of a next-generation anti-missile system formally proposed to Berlin just days ago.
“I think the price will be a challenge, and we’ll have to negotiate to come to an agreement,” Frank St. John, executive vice president of the company’s Missiles and Fire Control business, told Defense News in an interview at the Paris Air Show last week. “But we’re going to do better than the early expectations of the price.”
That is a reference to a figure that surfaced during the spring following testimony of a senior German defense official before parliament. At the time, the cost estimate for the TLVS program, short for Taktisches Luftverteidigungssystem, was €8 billion (U.S. $9 billion).
St. John declined to name the price ultimately included by Lockheed Martin and its German partner MBDA in their June 21 proposal. But he suggested the figure would lie significantly enough below the €8 billion mark to be considered more than cosmetic.
“I still anticipate a healthy debate and discussion about the pricing and the scope of the program through the negotiation process,” he said.
Negotiations are expected to begin as soon as the German Defence Ministry has analyzed the proposal, described by German officials as being thousands of pages long. If the government and Lockheed Martin come to an agreement, the proposed investment would go before lawmakers for a decision, probably late this year or early next year.
German plans for the TLVS program are based on the Medium Extended Air Defense System, conceived about 10 years ago as a replacement for the Patriot fleets of the United States, Germany and Italy. Soldiers had criticized the decades-old Patriot system as too cumbersome to deploy and maintain in the field.
Germany has stuck with MEADS even after the United States and Italy dropped off, with officials in Berlin arguing the prospect of developing a truly novel defensive weapon was worth the gamble of going it alone.
Defense officials in Germany have since added new requirements. For one, Berlin wants full control over all components, as opposed to buying an American weapon whose inner workings are shrouded in secrecy. In addition, the German government wants to be able to shoot down what officials call “advanced threats” (code for hypersonic missiles, such as those developed by Russia).
According to St. John, Lockheed's latest TLVS proposal comes with the promise of intercepting such threats, though probably not the most sophisticated ones. “And then there is a provision in the contract and in the design of the system to add capability as time goes by and as the threat evolves,” he said.
One of the sticking points for the proposed program — German access to secret performance data of the weapon’s principal interceptor, the so-called MSE missile — appears to have been resolved, St. John said. Until late last year, Berlin was unhappy with U.S. Army restrictions placed on the information, which Germany considers crucial for adapting the system to its needs.
Senior Pentagon leaders intervened to help resolve the logjam after Defense News reported on the issue in December 2018.
“We believe that we have coordinated that with the Department of State and the appropriate folks at the Department of Defense, and that the German customer is going to have access to the data they need to evaluate the system,” St. John said. “They’ll also have access to the data they need to recommend future modifications. We think that issue is resolved now.”
At the same time, he added, another round of approvals will be needed from the U.S. government as contract negotiations with Germany progress. “We’ll have to go back one more time ... to verify that everything is still in a good place."
Patriot-maker Raytheon issued a statement Monday reiterating its readiness to snatch the missile-defense contract from arch enemy Lockheed Martin if the TLVS program goes south. The company especially played up the option of connecting an upgraded Patriot system to a lower-tier system, made by Rheinmetall, to defend against drones and artillery rounds.
Ralph Acaba, president of Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business, said his company is increasingly banking on a layered air defense concept in which different systems — perhaps owned by different countries — take on various threat types. “No single nation, no single system can do it all when it comes to missile defense,” he told Defense News at the Paris Air Show.
According to Joseph de Antona, vice president for business development and strategy in Acaba's division, Raytheon does not consider Lockheed's TLVS bid a threat to Patriot sales. “If a country makes a decision, it's our responsibility to honor and recognize that,” he said. At the same time, he added, Raytheon plans to continue to advise the German government on new threats and how to counter them.
The company is “absolutely” still talking to the Berlin government to that effect, de Antona told Defense News.
German lawmakers on the Defence and Budget committees on Wednesday approved roughly €120 million to upgrade the country’s Patriot fleet to the newest configuration, known as “3-plus.” According to Raytheon, Berlin’s investments to keep Patriot up to date had been lagging since the decision in favor of TLVS.
Meanwhile, the proposed new system's funding profile has begun to take shape. Berlin wants to spend €3.36 billion on TLVS between 2021 and 2028, according to a draft government budget proposal meant for deliberation by lawmakers after the summer recess.
That figure likely would be too low to finance Lockheed's entire program proposal. But the draft budget includes a provision permitting a transfer of funds from the envisioned €5.6 billion budget for a new heavy transport helicopter.
The two contenders for that program are Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.