Moves by the U.S. Congress to end funding for a developmental battlefield missile defense system could harm Washington's relations with Italy and Germany -- the two other countries jointly financing the project, Reuters reported on Wednesday (see GSN, March 23).
The Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System is intended to provide protection against short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and hostile fighter jets. The three nations have spent more than 10 years developing the successor to U.S. Patriot air-defense technology.
Delivery of the first MEADS units is not anticipated before 2018 but the U.S. Defense Department announced in 2011 that it had no plans to purchase any of the systems and would end financing of the program as soon as it is contractually allowed after fiscal 2013. Providing one more year of funding would at least give Germany and Italy the option of acquiring the MEADS units when they become available and would also leave the door open for the United States to purchase the antimissile technology, the Pentagon has argued.
The Defense Department requested $401 million to continue development of the program in fiscal 2013, but three legislative panels have balked at providing the money (see GSN, May 25).
The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to pass its defense budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. President Obama has strongly objected to efforts to zero out MEADS fiscal 2013 funding and has said the issue "could harm our relationship with our allies on a much broader bases, including future multinational cooperative projects.
Highlighting the important role the MEADS project is intended to play in NATO's defense strategy, Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola has asked his U.S. counterpart, Leon Panetta, to press Senate appropriators to approve new funding for the project. "We hope and expect that the United States would live up to its (memorandum of understanding) commitment," the Italian defense chief said in a letter to Panetta that was viewed by Reuters.
Germany lawmaker Ernst Reinhard Beck has written a number of letters to U.S. legislators that warn ending the U.S. financial commitment "undermines the longstanding and trustful MEADS partnership" and could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in Italian and German contributions going down the drain.
Should Congress choose to end its support of MEADS development when the project is in its end stage, the move would be "perceived by Germany as breaking our transatlantic agreement and memorandum of understanding," Beck said in a letter.
"The U.S. Congress must be very aware that a pull-out on its final MEADS commitment has broad implications and it will have long-term impacts to other multinational cooperative projects," the German lawmaker wrote.
A U.S. withdrawal from the project would "probably cause significant financial and national security relationship challenge," he said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others contend that during a time of budget cutbacks it does not make sense for Congress to continue funding technology that the U.S. military has no intention of using. They point out that the current defense authorization law directed the Defense Department to choose between ending its support of the MEADS effort or figuring out how to stretch the $390 million approved for this fiscal year to wrap up work (Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, June 13).
The 2005 trilateral accord on MEADS development requires the United States to finance 58 percent of the program with Germany and Italy paying the difference, the Washington Business Journal reported (Jill Aitoro, Washington Business Journal, June 13).