In an apparent last-ditch attempt to secure funding for the troubled Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program, MEADS International, the primary contractor comprised of Lockheed Martin and MBDA, conducted a flight test at the White Sands Missile Range on November 17, 2011. According to a press release, the test “demonstrated an unprecedented over-the-shoulder launch of the MSE [missile segment enhancement] missile against a simulated target attacking from behind.” Even though the U.S. and Germany have already indicated that they do not intend to undertake the acquisition phase of MEADS, funding has been approved for two flight tests. An intercept flight test is scheduled for the end of 2012. It is unclear how much these tests will cost.
The timing of the November 17 test seems peculiar given the criticism that MEADS has received in the partnering countries of the U.S., Germany, and Italy. In the U.S., it remains to be seen whether MEADS will continue to receive funding as Congress has not produced the appropriations bill for the Department of Defense (DOD). Earlier this year, the House appropriated $257.1 million for the program, $149.5 million below the administration’s request. The Senate Armed Service Committee did not authorize funding for MEADS, but Senate appropriators supplied $406.6 million, which qualifies as an earmark according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) longstanding criteria. In October 2011, Germany announced that it wished to withdraw from the contract. Italy has yet to weigh in on whether it intends to move forward with further development and acquisition of MEADS.
Created in 1995, MEADS is a collaborative missile defense project intended to replace the U.S.’ Patriot Missile system, Germany’s Hawk system, and Italy’s Nike Hercules system. 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.
MEADS faces its share of detractors, including voices inside the DOD. A March 9, 2010, Washington Post article 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.”
Taxpayers are all too familiar with DOD boondoggles that receive funding long after they are proven wasteful. Testing MEADS at this juncture appears to be an attempt to secure funding for the acquisition phase of the troubled program. 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. On November 9, 2011, CAGW sent a letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh to determine the cost of the MEADS tests, the termination cost of unilaterally withdrawing from the MEADS contract, and the termination costs that would be owed to contractors in the event that the U.S., Germany, and Italy agree to collectively withdraw from the contract. CAGW awaits the Army’s response.