After eight years of development, the U.S. plans to ditch its involvement in — what was supposed to be — the king of trans-Atlantic missile defence systems. What MEADS would’ve been>
Intended to intercept and destroy any “air-breathing threats” within medium altitude range — such as tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones and aircraft — MEADS (Medium Air defence System) seemed to be a promising joint project between the U.S. and European allies Germany and Italy.
It was going to replace the Patriot missile system which has been in service since 1981. With a slew of high-tech “hit-to-kill” and “plug in and fight” advancements, MEADS has been promoted as being a quick, effective, 360-degree radar system to deploy.
But as Congress hashes out a new defence budget with cuts across the military, U.S. funding for MEADS has now been resigned to the scrap heap.
This spells disaster for the program, which only had one more year to go in its development phase.
The decision to drop out of MEADS will save the U.S. $400 million next year, but how much has already been invested since 2004, and now lost?
The U.S. has spent $2 billion in taxpayer dollars, according to Lockheed Martin’s director of MEADS business development Marty Coyne. He says that cancelling the program at this point is a complete waste of money. He points out:
“Because MEADS provides eight times the defended area of Patriot and is much less costly to operate and maintain, building just 32 MEADS units while retiring 60 Patriot units can save taxpayers $40 billion over the next 25 years.”
The U.S. decided in February 2011 that it wouldn’t buy the missile system, but it still contributed to design and development, meaning at least the radar and launching technology could be reaped for other hardware next year. That’s over now — just $2 billion gone — assuming the agreed upon bills go through.
defence News explains how the U.S. made an about-face:
“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 defence Authorization Act for 2012 required the termination of MEADS before then, with no funding for 2013.”
Germany and Italy aren’t impressed at all, with claims — or diplomatic threats — that American abandonment could seriously damage trans-Atlantic relations. German lawmaker Ernst-Reinhard Beck wrote a strongly-worded letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, pointing out U.S. hypocrisy in the matter. defence News has seen the letter, and reports:
Beck asks how the U.S. can demand Europe contribute to missile defence 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.
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.
We’ve pulled together technical details about MEADS and what might have been.
The system is network-centric, meaning launchers can 'plug into' the mission.
The open architecture network lets allies share information:
Knowing who's fighting where and with what aircraft allows MEADS to identity friendly forces flying overhead.
The system is also inter-operable, meaning it can be used in sync with other coalition weapon systems -- old and new. Even ships.
A surveillance radar is used to identify either friendly or enemy aircraft, while an X-Band multifunction fire control radar guides the system's missiles with precision towards threats.
MEADS is advertised as having eight times the range of Patriot.
A reduced crew is more economical, which is why MEADS was designed to require only two skill sets.
A battle manager is one of them, and he can control the network-centric system -- and all its allied components -- by remote control. This saves lives.
Designed to be highly mobile, the system's launcher is attached to a vehicle.
It's also air-transportable, so operators can drive the MEADS system onboard an aircraft and be flown to a destination, where they can then drive directly into combat.
A MEADS launcher loaded with eight PAC-3 missiles could be ready in 75 seconds and driven off in 55 seconds.
Using the same missile as the Patriot system, airborne threats are intercepted by PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) Missiles, which are known as 'hit-to-kill' missiles.
It defeats the entire threat: tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and aircraft.
It's got what's known as Mass Attack Performance capability.
MEADS is designed to take on more simultaneous engagements.
The first flight test took place last November, which successfully demonstrated 360-degree capability of an air and missile defence system for the first time ever. Intercept tests of missiles are supposed to begin this year.
But it appears the U.S. won't be involved in future development. The program will likely die off, leaving European partners high and dry. And eight years of U.S. investment wasted.
MEADS has been 58 per cent funded by the U.S., with Germany and Italy funding 25 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.
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