Back in 1995, the Pentagon proposed a new missile to defend American air space. The USSR had gone out of business on December 31, 1991, but a new enemy threatened America.
So secret was this threat that the Pentagon refused to mention it by name. But it was there. Lurking. Planning.
The new missile system was called MEADS. It still is: Medium Extended Air Defense System. “Medium extended.” I wonder what that means.
The system was going to cost $3.4 billion to deploy. It has cost $16.5 billion so far. It has yet to be deployed.
It will get another $250 million this year. That was pretty good for a system that Congress voted to kill last year. Think of what it would have cost if Congress had not voted to kill it.
Congress neglected to say when it would be killed. Soon. Real soon. Any time now.
But not in 2013. The Pentagon wants another $400 million.
It was designed either to supplement or replace the Patriot missile, designed in the late 1970s, which was not designed to stop the USSR’s nuclear missiles. There never was a defense system against those missiles, which still exist, even though the USSR doesn’t. The Patriot missiles are still deployed.
The House Armed Services Committee has rejected additional funding for the program. This gained objections from the White House. Killing a dud missile program after 17 years is not change the White House believes in.
You see, Europe needs this system. Germany and Italy want it. Desperately.
Pentagon officials have said a key reason for keeping the program going is help project partners Germany and Italy, providing “a meaningful capability” for them and “a possible future option for the U.S.” Since the project began in 1995, the U.S. has contributed 58 percent of the funds, while Germany provided 25 percent and Italy 17 percent. The venture is led by Lockheed Martin, in collaboration with a German firm, LFK-Lenkflugkörpersysteme, and the international MBDA-Systems Inc.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon did not return a request for comment, but Frank Kendall, the acting under secretary for acquisition, defended the costs at a March hearing as “not just a contract” but rather “an agreement with two of our … closest international partners.” The White House statement said cancelling it “would be perceived…as breaking our commitment…and could harm our relationship with our allies on a much broader basis.” It also could inhibit the harvesting of technology from the program to use elsewhere, the statement said.
American taxpayers would not want to see us leave Italy and Germany to the mercy of whoever the secret aggressor is.
American taxpayers would demand that this dud missile be deployed just as soon as it actually works. A mere 17 years is not too long to wait.
A request for comment from Lockheed, a main MEADS contractor, was not returned. But their homepage contains a number of press releases defending the project, including an editorial from retired Maj. Gen. James Cravens, a former Commandant of the Air Defense Artillery School hired by Lockheed in 2004. He denies a cost overrun and scoffs at the idea that Patriot systems, produced by both Lockheed and rival Raytheon Corporation, are enough to protect troops.
“Today’s threats have outgrown the Patriot missile-defense system — just ask a soldier,” writes Cravens, who says upgrading the Patriot is a bad investment “because of its Cold War architecture and technology limitations.” (There has been speculation that technology developed for the MEADS project could be used to upgrade the Patriot.)