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MEADS life-cycle costs will require less people, less airlift, and less logistical support than Patriot
The US Army’s air defense portfolio is taking a beating as the service downsizes its modernization plans and, among the programs under investigations there are the SLAMRAAM that was aimed at fielding an air defense system more capable than the short-range Stinger but more affordable than the long-range Patriot and the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) for extinction.
MEADS is a cooperative effort with Germany and Italy to develop a successor to the Patriot and earlier Nike-Hercules air defense systems, but it is falling victim to the same budgetary pressures that have done in other air defense efforts. Al Qaeda and the Taliban don’t have air forces (unless they hijack commercial transports), so the Army wants to shift money from air defense accounts to more pressing needs.
Problem is, just about every other enemy the Army is likely to face over the next few decades will have an air force, not to mention cruise missiles and various ballistic weapons. That makes termination of MEADS look rather myopic, since it will provide much greater coverage than Patriot while requiring less people, less airlift, and less logistical support. The whole idea behind the program was to field a next-generation air defense system that could cover more threats for less money.
The fact that MEADS has much lower life-cycle costs than Patriot makes its termination look short-sighted even from a budgetary perspective. In effect, the Army is saving a small amount of money in the near term while creating a bigger budgetary burden for itself later. It’s true that completing the development program will require significant funds over the next few years, but where else is the Army likely to find a solution to future threats for which allies are willing to foot 42 percent of the bill?
What the service is probably trying to do with its MEADS maneuver is get more money from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). OSD dreamed up MEADS in the first place, and the Army has never liked being locked into a tri-nation program that limited its flexibility. But if the service keeps canceling air defense modernization programs, that will incentivize enemies to invest in unmanned aircraft, cruise missiles and other inexpensive ways of circumventing the aging Patriot program.
Having successfully overcome its latest development hurdle — called a “critical design review” — MEADS is nearly ready for flight testing. Germany and Italy have signaled they want to go ahead with the program. It’s hard to believe the Obama Administration will permit the Army to terminate one of the few successful burden-sharing programs that America still has with its NATO allies.
MEADS Medium Extended Air Defence System, Germany / Italy / USA
The medium extended air defence system (MEADS), is planned to replace Hawk and Patriot systems worldwide. MEADS will protect manoeuvring forces and fixed installations against attack by current and next-generation tactical ballistic missiles, low and high-altitude cruise missiles, remotely piloted vehicles, manoeuvring fixed-wing aircraft and rotary wing aircraft. The total system is designed for rapid deployment and tactical mobility.
In June 2005, MEADS International received the formal contract from the NATO medium extended air defence management agency (NAMEADSMA) for the D&D phase. MEADS International’s participating companies are MBDA (formerly Alenia Marconi Systems) in Italy, EADS in Germany and Lockheed Martin in the US. Finance for the design and development programme is provided by the US (58%), Germany (25%) and Italy (17%). Development work is allocated in accordance with national funding.
Mobile surface-to-air missile system: MEADS is a mobile surface-to-air missile system. The multicanister launcher is mounted on a 5t wheeled vehicle. Advanced radars provide 360° coverage and operate in highly stressing jamming environments.
Plug and fight flexibility: The ‘plug and fight’ flexibility of its open architecture provides for 21st century air defence system-of-system integration capabilities that allow operational mission-tailoring for homeland defence or defence of manoeuvre forces. The system is able to command a fleet of distributed missile launchers while simultaneously detecting and tracking hostile forces and targets. The missile launchers can be located well away from the ground radar and the battle management units. It is also possible to hand over command and control of the launchers and missiles to a neighbouring battle management unit while management systems are moved.
Command and control: The MEADS BMC4I is a netted, distributed, automated communications network which uses an open systems architecture. All equipment is ruggedised commercial-off-the-shelf / military-off-the-shelf. Northrop Grumman Italia will provide the MEADS navigation and localisation system in February 2008.
Radar system: Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors is responsible for the surveillance radar and, with Selex Sistemi Integrati (formerly Alenia Marconi Systems) and EADS, they will provide the new X-band multi-function fire control radar. The radars will provide full 360° capability.
From Lexington Institute and AOS