Created in 1995, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is a collaborative missile defense project intended to replace the Patriot Missile system, which has been used by the U.S. and its allies for decades. A Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S., Germany, and Italy required that the U.S. pony up 58 percent of the development costs, with Germany covering 25 percent and Italy paying 17 percent. The U.S. has already spent $1.9 billion on the design and development phase of MEADS, but the program has been plagued with cost overruns of $2 billion and is 10 years behind schedule.
The Obama administration stated in February that the program would not continue past fiscal year (FY) 2013. The President’s FY 2012 budget funds the design and development phase of the MEADS program through that timeframe at a cost to taxpayers of $804 million, including $406.6 million in FY 2012.
President Obama has been challenged by Congress on the issue of continued funding for MEADS. In May 2011 the House passed the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which provided $257.1 million for MEADS, $149.5 million below the administration’s request. This figure was matched by the House version of the FY 2012 Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) went a step further in June 2011 by zeroing out funding for MEADS in the Senate version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, citing the need to pursue a less expensive alternative. However, Senate appropriators disagreed, and fully funded the administration’s request for development in the Senate version of the FY 2012 DOD Appropriations Act. Because the Senate did not authorize funding for MEADS, the funding in the appropriations bill – $406.6 million – qualifies as an earmark according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) long-standing criteria.
MEADS faces its share of detractors, many of whom collect a paycheck from the DOD. A March 9, 2010, Washington Post report quoted an internal U.S. Army memo asserting that the program “will not meet U.S. requirements or address the current and emerging threat without extensive and costly modifications.” The article also noted that former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics John Young, Jr. believes that MEADS poses a dilemma for the Pentagon, which is attempting to preserve a weapons program that the Army no longer wants, is not fully funded, and has large reported termination costs.
However, other elements within the Pentagon in favor of continuing funding for MEADS had their way in the Senate, as two high ranking officers sent letters to key members of Congress expressing their support for the program. These letters came in response to the SASC zeroing out funding for MEADS in the Senate defense authorization bill.
There is of course no certainty that funding for MEADS will end after two years and $804 million. When asked by Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) in a hearing of the Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee on March 29, 2011 whether he could guarantee that this amount would be sufficient to complete the research and design phase of MEADS, Undersecretary of Defense Robert F. Hale stated he could not. Taxpayers are all too familiar with DOD boondoggles that receive funding long after they are proven wasteful. The most prudent use of taxpayer money would be to drop MEADS in conjunction with Germany and Italy and instead modernize the Patriot Missile system at far less cost.
Terminating MEADS was included in Prime Cuts 2011, a compilation of spending cut recommendations released by CAGW on June 8, 2011.