By Dave Berganini
President, MEADS International
On November 29th at White Sands Missile Range, a first-ever over-the-shoulder engagement of an air-breathing target proved the Medium Extended Air Defense System’s 360-degree defense capability.
Success means the U.S. now has a choice. It can harvest proven MEADS hardware with advanced capabilities or continue spending to “modernize” an aging Patriot system.
At the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003, the U.S. Army assessed Patriot Missile System performance. Patriot’s wartime limitations were many and included a lack of 360-degree coverage, heavy trucks that routinely got stuck and couldn’t keep up with advancing troops, and an excessive demand for airlift that forced many Patriot systems to be transported by the Navy.*
Fast-forward to today, and the U.S. Army’s 2012 Integrated Air and Missile Defense Strategy: The strategy anticipates the need to protect U.S. interests in the Pacific. It requires plug-and-fight, network-centric systems that support a smaller, leaner, technologically advanced force. The Army plan requires 360-degree surveillance and fire control, and a modular open architecture.**
MEADS has these capabilities, now proven in two tests – one last year that demonstrated the 360-degree launch capability, and this year test that demonstrated the radar’s 360-degree capability to track the target and guide a PAC-3 MSE to intercept it. With networked 360-degree defensive capability, task force modularity and eight times the coverage area, MEADS technology is the shortest and safest path to realizing the Army’s strategy.
Unlike Patriot, MEADS launchers are lighter and more mobile, reload more quickly, and have inherent 360-degree launch capabilities.
Unlike Patriot, MEADS radars benefit from digital designs, electronically scanned arrays, reliability improvements, greater range, and 360-degree scan capability.
Unlike Patriot, MEADS is network-ready. Its plug-and-fight sensors and shooters can expand the MEADS network as more elements arrive. (Because the Army wants to use the evolving Integrated Battle Command System as the hub for its future AMD network, another billion or so would be needed to develop a network capability for Patriot’s launchers and radars.)
MEADS also slashes airlift demand and operating costs. MEADS system elements do more with less equipment, are more reliable, and require fewer soldiers to operate them.
The U.S. has already spent billions of dollars upgrading Patriot systems and still doesn’t have the capability the Army seeks to protect our warfighters and allies. Spending billions more on Patriot in challenging economic times doesn’t make sense when MEADS has successfully demonstrated these critical system capabilities and is also modular enough to incorporate into existing equipment, including Patriot.
*32nd AAMDC, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” September 2003
**U.S. Army, “2012 Integrated Air and Missile Defense Strategy,” September 2012