MEADS has been in development since September of 2004. What has been accomplished and how close is it to being completed?
Right now, we’re in the eighth year of a nine-year development contract. If we receive the FY13 budget request, it means we’ll have spent exactly what was budgeted when the program began, not one penny more. The program has been on schedule and within cost since late 2007. The radars, launchers, and battle managers needed for testing are built. Their designs were approved by all three nations in 2008. Last November, we conducted a highly successful first flight test that demonstrated the 360-degree capability of an air and missile defense system for the first time ever. So, what’s remaining? We have two upcoming intercept tests. The first one, later this year at White Sands Missile Range, will be against a cruise missile-like target. We will be introducing our 360-degree fire control radar at that time. And then we’ll follow that flight intercept test with a second intercept test planned for 2013 against a TBM (tactical ballistic missile).
MEADS was intended to replace Patriot. What can MEADS do that Patriot can’t?
There is really no comparison between the two. Patriot was designed during a different time for a different threat. Back in the ColdWar, the primary mission was to defend fixed sites in Europe against Soviet Union aircraft. Not designed to move often, Patriot is heavy, requires a lot of airlift and sealift, and is difficult to relocate. Since the direction of the Soviet threat was known, Patriot was not designed to be 360-degree capable. Also, as was the case in the late 60s, Patriot has a closed architecture with proprietary software, which limits operational flexibility and growth opportunities. Finally, due to age, there are the challenges of reliability and obsolescence.
MEADS addresses those challenges and limitations. The system is designed to defeat existing and future threats – a full 360 degrees. The MEADS end items are nearly half the weight of Patriot items so they need less airlift and sealift. They’re mobile and lightweight, in fact they’re wireless, so they’re able to be moved on the battlefield much easier. MEADS will be the first air and missile defense system capable of protecting a maneuvering force. MEADS employs an open, networkcentric architecture that gives it plugand- fight capability and unlimited unit configurations.
Clearly there are two options for air and missile defense – how important is competition in all of this?
You’re right – there are two options – continue to upgrade the old or go with the new. Competition is key in everything we do and is a priority to the Defense Department. It ensures our customers get the best product at the best price for our warfighters. MEADS was competitively awarded. Reversing a full and open competition only to provide that funding to the contractor that lost, just wouldn’t
seem to be in our nation’s best interest.
Germany and Italy have been partners in the development of MEADS. Has the partnership been successful, and if so, why or why not?
The MEADS program has been an outstanding example of multinational partnership and co-development. We have Germans, Italians, and Americans all working shoulder-to-shoulder, all on the same team. Everyone associated with this program knows we have achieved more together than we could possibly have hoped for apart. When the United States asked Germany and Italy to join in the development of MEADS, the U.S. also asked that they contribute nearly half of the funding. Germany and Italy agreed and they’ve met every milestone to-date and remain 100% committed to completing development. But it goes beyond burden sharing and industrial contributions. We’ve benefited significantly from the involvement of both the German and Italian Air Forces – ensuring the system is capable and interoperable with the United States and NATO.
How much has MEADS cost to-date, and what will the cost be at the end of this development contract?
To-date, the United States has spent $1.9 billion on MEADS. After 2013, when this current phase ends, the U.S. total investment will be $2.5 billion. Because of the ongoing debate, let’s contrast that with Patriot. It costs nearly $2.5 billion annually just to operate and maintain it.
With the recently announced upgrade figures of about an additional $400 million a year, the U.S. will spend approximately $3 billion a year on Patriot. That, of course, is in addition to the tens of billions spent on Patriot over the last forty years. If MEADS is cancelled, we will have wasted over $2 billion of U.S. taxpayer money, while embarking on a path that will funnel another $30 billion over the next 10 years on Patriot and still not result in a modern, mobile 360-degree system that can be easily deployed. We’re missing out on a chance to invest in the future. And for our allies, Germany and Italy, they lose the opportunity to improve their capability – something the U.S. has been seeking. It isn’t very well understood that development and procurement represent just a small cost of the total system
Can you talk a little bit about why operation and support savings are part of the MEADS design approach and why it’s working so well?
According to the Department of Defense, the biggest cost driver in weapons systems is operations and maintenance cost. Most estimates put the figure around 70% of the total cost. Cost effectiveness has always been a primary design driver for MEADS. The cost benefits of finishing development, procuring, and building MEADS, versus continuing to maintain and upgrade and retrofit Patriot are dramatic. 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 while significantly improving capability for our warfighters.
Can you talk about what is the path forward for MEADS beyond completion of the development contract?
We have some integration work to complete in addition to two intercept tests. That’s all under this development phase agreed upon last year by the three nations to demonstrate the capability and provide options on a path forward. When the U.S. said in February 2011 that they wouldn’t procure MEADS, they reserved the right to revisit that decision. Our goal is to provide options to the U.S., as well as Germany and Italy, and to any of the other nations that have expressed interest in MEADS, that it’s worth completing and building. That’s our path forward. We have to remain focused on maintaining the success that we’ve been experiencing, have a successful intercept test, and demonstrate the capability of MEADS. Soldiers and airmen from three countries are depending on us.
Are any other countries interested in MEADS, and if they are, could another country just join a production agreement?
Several nations have expressed interest and the list is growing because of the growing missile threat. There is recognition that the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, and the horrible scenario of them being married up with weapons of mass destruction, pose an enormous threat to nations across the globe. So a number of nations are interested in a next-generation, mobile, 360-degree air and missile defense system designed to address the 21st century threat. Several of them are paying close attention to our testing program and we feel confident the system will be attractive not just to today’s three partner nations, but to others who seek air and missile defense capabilities as well. (CQ Outlook – June 2012)