German lawmakers in late April cleared the way for Berlin to continue work with the United States and Italy on a battlefield air and missile defense system. All three countries belong to NATO, which recently agreed to establish a battle management system to help coordinate and integrate missile defense operations among its 26 members.
After months of debate, the Bundestag’s budget committee April 20 approved more than $1 billion in funding for the design and development phase of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Initiated in 1996, MEADS is intended to defend against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and combat aircraft. The main elements of the system will be a mobile launcher and, initially, the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor, which destroys incoming targets by colliding with them.
Italy and the United States had already signed on to the design and development phase last year. (See ACT, November 2004.) This phase of the program, orignally slated to begin in 1999, is to last nine years and involve up to 10 intercept tests in total.
The Bundestag had been expected to approve German participation in the program in February, but a surprise debate erupted. The Green Party, which forms the German government’s ruling coalition with the Social Democrats, led the opposition to MEADS and won several concessions before dropping its objections. Among other steps, the budget committee postponed a planned purchase of anti-tank missiles for attack helicopters and approved an accelerated withdrawal of anti-vehicle mines from Germany’s weapons stockpiles.
Participation in the design and development phase does not bind Germany to buying systems. Green Party defense spokesperson Winfried Nachtwei told Arms Control Today May 19 that a final German decision on MEADS would occur in September 2008.
Current program plans envision the United States as acquiring 48 MEADS firing units, Germany half that number, and Italy another nine. Six launchers with up to a dozen missiles each make up a firing unit.
With more of its members pursuing missile defenses, NATO approved a plan March 11 to develop an umbrella system to help members operate their individual systems collectively. The goal is to have the battle management command and control center, which is expected to cost nearly $900 million, set up by 2010 in The Hague.
The nascent battle management system only applies to systems designed to defend deployed forces against shortand medium-range ballistic missiles. The alliance has another study underway on how to protect their territories and populations against long-range ballistic missiles. That study is scheduled to be completed in June.
Notwithstanding the NATO study, Washington is consulting with several European capitals about deploying long-range missile interceptors on their territories within the next several years. The Pentagon has discussed this option with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and possibly others. (See ACT, May 2005.)