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Lockheed Still Working on MEADS Despite Lack of U.S. Interest

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin is continuing work on a battlefield antimissile system despite the U.S. military's announced lack of interest in purchasing any units, the Huntsville Times reported on Sunday (see GSN, July 19).

The company showed off an operational Medium Extended Air Defense System tactical operations center at this year's Space and Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville, Ala.

The United States, Germany and Italy jointly financed development of the Medium Extended Air Defense System, which was originally envisioned to protect troops in combat from short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and enemy fighter jets. The system was scheduled for delivery in 2018, but the Defense Department this year announced it would withdraw from participation in the program in favor of the existing Patriot system.

Lawmakers are considering whether to end U.S. financing for the MEADS effort ahead of the planned fiscal 2013 cutoff date, a move that could incur significant financial penalties due to cancellation of existing contracts.

Lockheed and development partners MBDA in Italy and LFK in Germany intend in November to conduct an initial test-firing of the system using their new tactical operations center.

"We have a near-vertical launch capability out of our launcher," NATO MEADS Management Agency General Manager Gregory Kee said. In the planned test, a MEADS missile "will be launching out one direction and then bending over your shoulder and going behind you to do a flight pattern. We're not doing an intercept on this first test, but we're demonstrating the capability."

An initial intercept test is planned for the last three months of 2012, according to Kee.

Lockheed and MEADS administrators underlined that the system has moved beyond the conceptual and blueprint stage.

"This is real hardware. This is real software. So we've got real capability that we are delivering to our customer so we can execute the upcoming missions and continue on with the developmental program," Lockheed Vice President John Holly said.

Advocates aim to convince Capitol Hill of the feasibility of the battlefield missile defense system as lawmakers prepare to vote on the fiscal 2012 defense budget. The Senate Armed Services Committee two months ago cut the Obama administration's $406 million MEADS funding request for the upcoming fiscal year.

Opponents of the antimissile system contend the program has been characterized by poor management, excessive expenses and other issues, according to the Times. It is not worth spending roughly $806 million over the next two budgets on an unwanted system in a time of anticipated severe government cutbacks, they say.

Proponents counter that analyses and trials demonstrate the technology is once again progressing forward; that over the extended term, the MEADS technology will be more cost effective and operationally valuable than other options; that Washington needs to prove to the international community it fulfills its business agreements; and that backing out of the contract now would mean the United States will gain nothing from its $1.5 billion investment in the technology, regardless of whether the Pentagon chooses to purchase MEADS units.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to get Congress to support" paying the full balance on the MEADS contract, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said at the Space and Missile Defense Conference.

"We're optimistic. We think that the next-generation capability that this system brings to the table, the lower operational costs, are all very valuable, and the benefit will be seen," Kee said. "We're optimistic that as Congress continues its deliberations that will come out in the discussion" (Kenneth Kesner, Huntsville Times, Aug. 21).

NTI Analysis

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