Over the past couple of decades, the U.S. Army has spent tens of billions of dollars in R&D on programs that never made it through development. Two examples of these are the Future Combat System and the Comanche armed scout helicopter. The Army struggled to harvest the advanced technologies begun by these defunct programs and apply them to upgrades to existing platforms or yet another new start.
Congress has an opportunity to prevent the Army from seeing all the technologies developed under yet another cancelled R&D program, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), go to waste. MEADS was a tri-national effort (Germany and Italy providing almost half the funding) intended to develop a replacement for the venerable Patriot air and missile defense system widely deployed by the U.S. and a host of friends and allies. MEADS would provide a highly mobile, 360-degree capability to detect, track and destroy air-breathing targets, both airplanes and cruise missiles. After providing more than $3 billion in funding, the Army decided to halt the program and focus strictly on upgrades to the Patriot. The fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed just last month by President Obama includes a ban on future MEADS work. In addition to a significant loss of potential defense capabilities the MEADS funding cutoff also damages relations with two of this country’s closest allies.
The MEADS development team, led by Lockheed Martin, had one more year of development work to prove MEADS would work. In fact, the plan for fiscal 2013 was to conduct a test intercept of a tactical ballistic missile. If successful, such a test would demonstrate that MEADS could serve as both an air and missile defense system. Such a blended capability is increasingly important in an international security environment marked by the proliferation of rockets, ballistic and cruise missiles, drones and advanced ground attack aircraft.
Congressional appropriators can fix the mistake made by the Army and the NDAA. For some $400 million, MEADS can finish out the current development plan and conduct the live fire test against a theater ballistic missile. Even in today’s constrained budget environment this is a small amount of money. By finishing out the test program the Army will be in a better position to harvest the promising technologies developed by MEADS to enhance the Patriot or even begin yet a new air and missile defense system.
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