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Pentagon Warns of Repercussions if MEADS Not Funded

A Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System interceptor lifts off in a 2011 test flight at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Pentagon has urged Congress to finance the controversial MEADS development project for an additional year (MEADS International photo). A Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System interceptor lifts off in a 2011 test flight at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Pentagon has urged Congress to finance the controversial MEADS development project for an additional year (MEADS International photo).

The U.S. Defense Department is urging Congress to grant its request for one more year of funding for a divisive multinational project to develop new battlefield antimissile technology, warning that an abrupt pullout from the effort would have substantive negative economic and diplomatic repercussions, Reuters reported on Wednesday (see GSN, June 14).

In a Tuesday letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked that his department's fiscal 2013 request for $400.9 million for the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System be granted.

The MEADS program was developed with the intention of protecting military forces from enemy fighter planes, cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles. For more than a decade, the United States, Italy and Germany have jointly funded development of the technology, which is to succeed Patriot air-defense systems. The first MEADS units are not expected to be ready prior to 2018 but the Pentagon declared last year that it would not acquire any of the systems and would end its participation in the program following the next budget year.

Three separate congressional panels have refused new funding for the MEADS initiative in fiscal 2013, which begins on Oct. 1.

In his letter to Inouye, Panetta said an early U.S. withdrawal from the antimissile initiative would be "viewed by our allies as reneging on our promises." Maintaining involvement through the coming fiscal cycle would enable Washington, Berlin, and Rome to see some return on the cumulative $4 billion that has been poured into the effort, he added.

Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) that U.S. financial agreements with Germany and Italy would either be canceled or substantially modified if no new MEADS monies are appropriated.

Berlin and Rome could be expected to contend that Washington should be on the hook to the defense contractors developing the antimissile system for all financial penalties for early program cancellation, Kendall said. Termination of the MEADS effort could hurt the Obama administration's attempts to convince foreign military allies to take on greater roles in military collaboration efforts, according to the letter.

Italy and Germany would also likely shift to purchasing European-made antimissile systems, Kendall stated. He and Panetta also noted that technological benefits could still be derived from the program.

The Pentagon chief said MEADS cancellation would also undermine the Obama administration's efforts to establish a European ballistic missile defense system that would use both deployed U.S. assets and European systems to protect the continent against feared missile strikes from the Middle East.

"The United States relies on allies to share the burden of peacekeeping and defense in coalition activities. In this context, I believe that it is important to live up to our commitments to our allies," Panetta wrote (Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, June 27).

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