A long-delayed effort by the United States, Germany, and Italy to field a joint missile defense system to protect troops on the battlefield picked up momentum Sept. 28 with the announcement of a $3 billion contract to begin design and development.
Intended to counter shorter-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and combat aircraft, the system—the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS)—will consist of a mobile launcher that will initially fire the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptor. PAC-3 interceptors, which obliterate their targets through a direct collision, accounted for two of the nine Iraqi missiles reportedly destroyed by Patriot systems during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. (See ACT, November 2003.)
The new contract foresees a nine-year design and development phase with flight-testing beginning in four years. Up to 10 total intercept tests, including some involving multiple targets and interceptors, are planned.
Earlier plans projected MEADS would enter the design and development stage in 1999, but differences among the three partners over splitting costs and sharing technology caused prolonged delays. The contract award suggests these disputes have been sufficiently resolved, although Germany must still sign a Memorandum of Understanding to officially kick off work on the new stage.
Berlin is expected to formalize its future MEADS participation following a parliamentary review later this year. “We have received indications from our German partners that Germany fully supports the MEADS program,” Jennifer Allen, a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin Corp., the lead U.S. company in the project, said Oct. 7.
“If Germany should elect not to continue its participation in the program, continuation of the program would be re-evaluated by the remaining parties,” a U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Oct. 19.
If the system is successfully developed, the United States intends to procure 48 MEADS firing units. Germany is expected to acquire 24, and Italy another nine. A firing unit consists of six launchers and 8-12 interceptors per launcher.
Washington’s share of the new contract will be approximately 58 percent, while Germany is responsible for 25 percent and Italy 17 percent. MEADS had received $320 million in funding since its initiation in 1996.