Army generals have said repeatedly the service doesn’t want it. The Senate voted 94-5 to kill funding in its final year. But much like Michael Myers in the Halloween horror series, this missile defense system just won’t die.
Lockheed Martin’s Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System, better known as MEADS, sounds like a weapons system the U.S. military might want to invest. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently announced a $1 billion program to improve U.S. ballistic missile defenses following the nuclear tests and threats from North Korea.
However, the U.S. will pay $380 million to complete the development of a system that it doesn’t plan to buy. Paying that amount of money in the era of budget cuts with Defense Department civilians set to take a 22-day unpaid furlough is especially irritating for members of Congress.
One influential Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has come to call MEADS the “missile to nowhere.”
“This is a weapons system that the Pentagon won’t use and Congress doesn’t want to fund. We shouldn’t waste any more money on a ‘missile to nowhere’ that will never reach the battlefield,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “Every dollar we spend on a wasteful program is a dollar we don’t have to ensure our service members have everything they need to protect themselves and accomplish their missions.”
Ayotte sponsored an amendment to end funding for the program — an amendment that passed in the Senate 94-5. However, when it mattered most, Congressional appropriators again caved and included $380 million in the 2013 continuing resolution to complete funding in MEADS’ final year of development.
Update: Ayotte has placed a hold on Alan Estevez’s nomination to be the next principal deputy undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics over her concerns the MEADS was funded even though the NDAA prohibits such MEADS funding. The New Hampshire senator wants an explanation to why this is from Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale and Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor. This was first reported in PolitiPro.
MEADS was supposed to replace the Patriot missile defense system built by Raytheon. The system syncs up a hit-to-kill PAC-3 missile with surveillance and fire control sensors as well a battle management/communication centers. What’s often touted about MEADS is its 360-degree radar, which Patriot does not feature.
The U.S. is joined by Germany and Italy in this three-country program. So far, the three allies have spent about $3 billion with the U.S. picking up the 58 percent of the bill. Germany and Italy plan to continue to develop the program even after the U.S. drops out.
In 2013, Lockheed Martin, which heads the consortium of companies developing the system, hopes to prove in a flight test that MEADS can successfully intercept a ballistic missile.
The argument made by the MEADS lobby is that the military can harvest technologies from the missile defense system. Killing the program now would leave the U.S. with little to show for the investment they made in the program. Also, the termination fees written into the contract nearly equal the total amount required to fund the program in its final year.
However, what ended up saving the program from losing its funding was likely the jobs it provided in central New York, specifically Sen. Chuck Schumer’s district. The senator from New York lobbied Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to keep the funding in the continuing resolution. Schumers holds close relationships with Mikulski and Reid.
“Ayotte kept trying to get her amendment on the floor, but we blocked it each time,” said in an interview with The Post Standard.
A Lockheed Martin plant in Salina, N.Y., employees 235 people who have worked to develop the surveillance radar. The radar is one of the likely pieces the Army hopes to harvest from the program.
Ayotte has her own motivations. Many of the employees who work at the Raytheon plant in Andover, Mass., live in New Hampshire.