In recent months, much of Congress's attention has been focused
on the missile defense program that would place 10 ground-based
midcourse defense interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech
Republic. This particular focus is understandable; after all, the
Obama Administration's unclear policy regarding this program has
generated considerable public debate.
However, Congress should not lose sight of the fact that there
is another vital missile defense/air defense cooperation program
that deserves its attention and support: the Medium Extended Air
Defense System (MEADS) development program, which is jointly funded
by Germany, Italy, and the United States.
MEADS is being designed to counter tactical (short-range )
ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, and
aircraft. It will consist of:
- A sophisticated x-band radar;
- A surveillance radar with 360 degree coverage;
- A tactical operations center;
- Launchers; and
- The next-generation Patriot interceptor.
The Germans are covering 25 percent of the cost of the program,
while the Italians are covering 16.7 percent. The U.S. is
responsible for the remaining 58.3 percent. This cost-sharing
arrangement is based on a $3.4 billion contract that was signed by
the three countries in 2004.
The Obama Administration requested a little more than $569
million in research, development, test, and evaluation funding for
the program for fiscal year 2010. Generally speaking, Congress
is on track to support the Administration's request. The question
is whether the Obama Administration and Congress will support the
program in the years after fiscal year 2010. Therefore, Congress
should express its desire to see this program continue in fiscal
year 2011 and beyond.
If the program continues, it is slated to begin flight tests in
2012. In fact, MEADS International, the joint venture executing the
contract, announced on August 5 that the system had completed is
component-level critical design reviews and that MEADS will begin
The Obama Administration and Congress should sustain this
program for the following reasons:
- Continuation of the program will reinforce U.S. alliance
commitments in Europe. A variety of factors--including the
Obama Administration's vacillation (in the face of Russian
criticism) regarding the placement of long-range missile defense
systems in the Czech Republic and Poland--are placing stress on the
North Atlantic alliance. Abandoning this cooperative program for
countering short-range missiles will only serve to reinforce the
trend toward a weaker alliance. Additionally, U.S. withdrawal will
void its contractual obligation to Germany and Italy. If the U.S.
moves forward with the systems for the Czech Republic and Poland,
however, it is reasonable to demand that the Germans and Italians
express support for the fielding of the long-range missile defenses
for U.S. and Europe. After all, if the MEADS program is important
to Germany and Italy, both nations should understand that the
corresponding long-range missile defense system is important to the
Czech Republic and Poland.
- MEADS will provide a transportable missile and air defense
capability. This means the system will be able to accompany
expeditionary ground forces to wherever they are deployed and
protect these forces against air and missile attacks. Thus, MEADS
will be a critical element of alliance force projection
- MEADS also provides tactical mobility for air and missile
defense. The MEADS system can keep up with highly mobile
deployed ground forces as they conduct their operations, providing
them protection on the move.
- MEADS will provide 360 degree protection against missile and
air threats. The radar elements of the broader MEADS
architecture will be able to detect, and provide precise tracking
of, attacking missiles and aircraft regardless of their launch
point. This capacity will not be limited to defending against
attacks originating across a forward perimeter; attacks from the
rear will be engaged as well. MEADS technology recognizes that on
the modern battlefield the lines separating friendly from enemy
forces are not clearly defined.
- MEADS is interoperable with other defense systems. MEADS
is not a standalone system. It can work in association with other
missile defense systems, including the Terminal High Altitude Area
Defense (THAAD) system and the Aegis sea-based missile defense
systems. This flexibility will provide the ground force with a
defense against shorter-range ("lower tier") threats while THAAD
and Aegis handle longer-range ("upper tier") ballistic missile
- MEADS is an "open architecture" system. This means that
the system will support data links with radar and other sensors
outside its own autonomous network. As a result, MEADS will be even
more effective, as outside systems will be able to make use of
MEADS capabilities to improve their performance. For example,
MEADS, as with the longer-range defenses that should be fielded in
the Czech Republic and Poland, may be able to make a material
contribution the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense
system that NATO planners are currently designing.
Congress Should Protect MEADS
Since the contract with Germany and Italy was signed in 2004,
considerable progress has been made under the MEADS program.
Nevertheless, the Obama Administration may be tempted to abandon
the program in 2011. This decision would have negative consequences
for U.S. alliance leadership in Europe, the ability to protect U.S.
and allied ground forces in the field, and overall U.S. and
alliance air and missile defense capabilities. On this basis,
Congress should warn the Obama Administration against cancelling
this very important defense program before the arguments of
opponents of the program inside the Administration advance too
Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow National Security Policy
in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Department of Defense, "Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request: Summary
Justification," May 2009, pp. 3-36.
Press release, "MEADS Program Receives Hardware
Design Approvals, Enters System-Level CDR," MEADS International,
August 5, 2009.