By Dave Berganini
President, MEADS International
Although the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended FY 2013 funding for the Medium Extended Air Defense (MEADS) program last week, we expect that Patriot supporters will try to muddy the facts. It is an important debate because MEADS is successfully demonstrating the networked 360-degree air and missile defense capabilities the aging Patriot system can’t provide. Few remember that it took 15 years to develop Patriot and cost vastly more than what the U.S. will invest in MEADS. With U.S. costs capped at $2.67B, MEADS is a bargain compared to the Patriot system it was intended to replace.
Recent articles by the ‘Taxpayers Protection Alliance’ and the ‘Citizens Against Government Waste’ have again distorted the cost and success of the MEADS program. The truth is that meaningful development funding for MEADS didn’t start until eight years ago, and MEADS has honored its cost commitment – there is no cost overrun today. Also, when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated a $19.4B total program cost, it included sufficient production to replace Patriot one-for-one, which would give the Army eight times the capability it has now. Realistically, with production cut in half, the Army would gain four times the current Patriot defensive capability at a cost that could almost be written off with savings from retiring costly-to-maintain Patriot batteries. (Ask GAO, please.)
Because Patriot is old and designed for a different era, it needs continuous upgrades. Despite improvements in interfaces, radar, and maintenance, Patriot upgrades are already requiring another $2B in the next five years. The Senate Appropriators go further in their budget language (page 12) questioning if a modernization strategy even exists for Patriot, let alone a cost estimate for upgrades.
Yet none of these upgrades address Patriot’s fundamental problems – sector limitations, high operation and support costs, and impossible transportation logistics. And even with upgrades, Patriot still will not be networked like MEADS, able to leverage PAC-3 MSE missile capabilities like MEADS, or able to form into task-specific battle configurations like MEADS. Nor would an “upgraded” Patriot provide manpower savings like MEADS. Why aren’t tax watch groups taking a harder look at Patriot?
Patriot was designed over 40 years ago. Despite recent improvements, it is nowhere near being a modern system today. The threats are more sophisticated, and it will take more than a proud legacy to defeat them.