Lockheed Martin and MBDA-Italia will, this month, move into the 108-month development phase of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) project, and are to begin a push to sign additional European governments up to the plan, writes Justin Wastnage.

The MEADS International joint venture was awarded a $3 billion design and development contract last September, but progress was delayed pending German parliamentary approval for EADS German subsidiary LFK's inclusion in the tri-national consortium. The contract ran around $500 million over budget when awarded last year.

At present, MEADS is to replace the USA and Germany's Patriot missile defence systems and Italy's Nike Hercules batteries, but could be developed to replace all of Europe's disparate systems. Lt Col Jeffrey Fitch, deputy national armament director's representative at the US Mission to NATO says: "The future of US-European industrial co-operation will look like NATO projects like MEADS."

Lockheed president for continental Europe, Scott Harris, speaking at a New Defence Agenda discussion on the transatlantic defence marketplace in Brussels last week, said MEADS would be "the tactical air defence system for all of Europe if the other nations want it to be". The US company will spearhead any European sales drive, he says.

The MEADS design's specifications have narrowed since 2004, with the three governments having ironed out requested changes, and there is hope that a NATO standard could be developed to offer the system to other countries. Each nation now has a unique tactical operational centre, adding to overall costs. If MEADS became a NATO programme, increased interoperability could cut costs, says Harris. Germany funds 25% of the project, Italy 17% and the USA the remainder.

Source: Flight International