Graham Warwick/ATLANTAGilbert Sedbon/PARIS

GERMANY, ITALY AND the USA are expected to proceed with the Medium Extended Air-Defence-System (MEADS) programme without France, which is provisionally suspending participation in the project.

The three countries are expected to sign an statement of intent (SoI) to develop the MEADS, to replace Raytheon Hawk and Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.

Signing of the SoI will allow formation of the NATO MEADS Management Agency and the award of programme-definition and -validation contracts to two US/European teams. The US Army has already selected Hughes/Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to compete for the MEADS (formerly Corps SAM) programme, and each one is aligned with a European team.

The same European companies are involved in both teams: Aerospatiale and Thomson-CSF of France, Daimler-Benz Aerospace and Siemens of Germany, and Alenia of Italy. The future of French industry participation is unclear, but Aerospatiale and Thomson-CSF may continue to be involved, at least through the initial four-month teaming phase, while France determines whether to rejoin the programme.

"France is not in a situation where it can definitely engage itself now in such a programme, because the future defence budget has not yet been established and we have not yet decided on our major armaments choices," says the country's defence ministry.

The four countries had been scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding on 15 April to launch the programme.

Germany and Italy have informed the USA of their intention to proceed with the programme, which was to have been funded 50% by the USA, 20% by France, 20% by Germany and 10% by Italy. The definition and validation phase is planned to lead to selection of a single US/European team to begin development in 1999, with the MEADS to be deployed in 2005.

Details of the MEADS are still scarce. The mobile missile system is intended to defend manoeuvre forces against aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, providing 360¡ coverage and will be able to be transported by Lockheed Martin C-130s.

Source: Flight International