Donald Koehler’s article (Congress Must Clean Up MEADS Mess, The Hill, 7 September) fails to account for the essential operational improvements and cost savings that will come from continuing to develop the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Updating Patriot as he advocates will cost more but won’t provide the highly mobile 360-degree protection the Army has asked for. In fact, after billions and billions spent fixing Patriot over the past decade, the U.S. Army still does not have a system that meets its requirements.
At the heart of the problem is Patriot’s aging design and Cold War architecture. Just this month, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute wrote that Patriot’s technologies prevent it from providing 360-degree protection at an affordable price. It is also very heavy, requiring considerable time and expense to deploy overseas, or move on the ground. While Koehler suggests airlift for MEADS should be a concern, it holds significant advantages over Patriot. MEADS cuts airlift to the bone. With a third of the C-17 flights, MEADS can deliver four times the coverage of Patriot anywhere in the world. Additionally, by investing in partner capability through MEADS, NATO allies Germany and Italy will also have their own networked MEADS capabilities forward-placed in Europe, further reducing airlift demands.
The numbers speak clearly. In the past eight years, the U.S. Army has spent more on Patriot modifications than on MEADS development. Just last week, a Congressionally mandated report by the National Academies’ National Research Council lifted the veil on the extraordinary cost to keep Patriot in the field. At an average annual O&S cost between $735.1 million and $808.6 million for each Patriot battalion, Patriot requires over $12 billion dollars annually to operate and maintain the system. Requested upgrades average an additional $500 million per year, so the U.S. will continue to spend close to $13 billion each year by keeping Patriot in service. If monies requested for MEADS next year are cut from the FY13 budget, it ensures that Patriot will be the Army’s only option and locks in well over $125 billion in spending for the next 10 years.
This report offers clear evidence why Cold War legacy systems must be retired. Nearly 70 percent of the total cost of these weapon systems is for operations and maintenance – a huge cost. Contrast that with the dramatic cost benefits for MEADS. Because lower operating costs are a primary design requirement for MEADS, they savings from retiring Patriot will pay for MEADS in only a few years.
Koehler mentions that MEADS might cost $20B through procurement, and that might be true if you replaced every Patriot unit with a MEADS equivalent. But that isn’t necessary. MEADS provides eight times the defended area of Patriot, so building just 32 MEADS units and retiring all 60 Patriot units could save taxpayers billions and still give our soldiers a capability that provides four times the defended area. To ensure that U.S. taxpayers benefit from the best and most cost-effective system, an independent GAO analysis to compare costs for MEADS and Patriot ought to be done.
MEADS will pay for itself several times over, through manpower savings, better performance, smaller demand for airlift, and greater reliability of 21st century electronic designs. No amount of money spent on Patriot can deliver these capabilities.
It just doesn’t make sense to keep paying more for an aging system that does less.
David F. Berganini, Jr.