Wagging the MEADS dog

Lockheed Martin continues trotting out a stalled missile defense program, celebrating further milestones.

PARIS — Lockheed Martin executives spent 30 minutes announcing another MEADS milestone here at the Eurosatory international land warfare conference. This time the officials dutifully stood up and told the group of mostly European defense reporters how the first Medium Extended Air Defense System’s power and communications unit completed testing in Germany.

It took less than 30 seconds for the group of reporters in attendance to ask why any of it mattered unless the U.S. Congress had a sudden change of heart. The setting was Paris, but again the fate of the program that includes Italy, Germany and the U.S. will fall to the Americans, the country responsible for 58 percent of the funding.

Congress will decide if the tri-national missile defense program originally designed to replace Patriot will live past 2012. Congress spent the most recent round of budget hearings ripping the program the U.S. Army has already decided it will not field.Then it left out the $400 million requested by the Pentagon to continue development in 2013.

Army Secretary John McHugh sat in front of Congress and sheepishly explained that his staff didn’t sign the contract that has saddled the Pentagon with $800 million in cancellation fees paid to Lockheed Martin for the failed missile defense program.

Lockheed Martin executives insisted the three countries will get a chance to harvest technologies for the $3.4 billion contract signed back in 2004. Walter Stammler, a German who serves as the chairman for the board of directors for MEADS International, and Guido Lami, vice president for MBDA-Italy, said their two respective countries supported the program. Marty Coyne, the  business development executive for the MEADS program, said the U.S. also supports the program.

Of course, no one invited U.S. Sen. John McCain, minority leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has loudly criticized the program. He and seven other senators from both sides of the aisle signed a letter saying “we cannot afford to spend a single additional dollar on a weapons system such as MEADS that our warfighters will never use.”

McCain went on to scold Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for not following Congressional instructions to negotiate the cancellation of the program with Italy and Germany or finish it in 2012. He then wrote in his own letter to the Pentagon: “I am disappointed that the Department has chosen to ignore current law and congressional direction by requesting an additional $400 million for MEADS in fiscal year 2013 to continue the ‘proof of concept’ that Congress instructed be completed utilizing no more funding than the level appropriated for fiscal year 2012.”

Despite proof to the contrary, Coyne says he expects that change of heart to occur and Congress to reverse its decision to reject funding in 2013 for MEADS development. His logic is the program that has been unpopular for years has still received funding. Why not again in 2013?

The problem is the growing specter that sequestration will occur and the Pentagon will have to stomach an additional half trillion dollars worth of cuts. To bring the MEADS funding back they’d have to cut something else from a sparse budget to free up money for the program the U.S. has no plans to field.

Coyne said Lockheed Martin has not talked to Congress about lowering the cost for cancellation fees that members of Congress have threatened not to pay. He said Lockheed Martin will continue to proceed as if they will continue development in 2013 and find ways to harvest the technology for the missile defense program that will not be deployed.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Stammler and Lami as Lockheed Martin employees.