By Volker Weidemann
Executive Vice President, MEADS International
In May, NATO members approved numerous collaboration agreements to cost effectively strengthen the alliance’s capabilities through a Smart Defense initiative. However, instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate its most important success in this area, the U.S. may yet embarrass itself by failing to fund the final contract year of the tri-national, NATO-managed Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System (MEADS). This action would deny Germany and Italy the ability to effectively contribute to the European Phased Adaptive Approach.
The United States has repeatedly asked NATO allies to devote the necessary resources to become serious and capable defense partners. This is especially true in Europe, where the U.S. is withdrawing troops and pivoting its focus to the Pacific Rim. Yet, despite the partnership that is the foundation for the U.S. missile-defense strategy in Europe, Congressional action threatens to undermine the longstanding MEADS partnership with NATO allies Germany and Italy. It also risks wasting hundreds of millions of euros already invested in a much-needed air and missile defense capability that has begun proving itself.
Germany and Italy have provided nearly half the development funding for MEADS, and in 7 years of cooperative development have met every obligation of the MEADS Memorandum of Understanding. With FY13 funding from the U.S., initial MEADS development milestones will be accomplished, providing a solid foundation for production. At the end of flight tests next year, each nation will be able to access proven, networked, 360-degree, tactically mobile MEADS capabilities that fix Patriot’s limitations.
That’s why it’s more important for the U.S. to fund its final $401M commitment than to spend $2B upgrading a 40-year-old Patriot system with less capability. And it makes even less sense to upset trusted coalition allies Germany and Italy, who have supported the partnership with $1.6 billion but won’t have the viable air and missile defense capacity each nation needs without the U.S. making good on its commitment.
MEADS also will provide future savings for the U.S. and Germany, both of whom have aging Patriot systems. MEADS requires less manpower and provides full 360-degree protection against next-generation missile threats, aircraft, and cruise missiles. In fact, life cycle cost estimates show that, after fielding, MEADS can pay for itself because it costs much less to maintain and operate. MEADS is also interoperable, so systems could be provided interchangeably from Germany, Italy, or the U.S. in any emergency.
During a press conference in February, the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the German Defense Minister agreed on the need to complete MEADS development. In April, in a briefing in Washington, D.C., the Italian Minister of Defense said the U.S. should be more respectful of the effort the allies put forth when they get involved in a forward-looking new capacity, because MEADS would be part of the missile defense approach and European contribution to missile defense.
If the European defense partnership is important, then the U.S. needs to continue to walk its partnership talk by approving the President’s Budget Request and honoring its MEADS agreement.