US defence undersecretary Michael Wynne has approved a plan to slow deployment of the tri-national Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) by the US Army by two years to 2014.

This affects the programme's minority partners in Germany and Italy, which signed on to the programme based on an original plan to make the system operational in 2012. US Army planners had lobbied Wynne to postpone the fielding of MEADS until 2016, and instead pay for near-term upgrades to the Raytheon Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system.

MEADS is to replace the 1960s-era Nike system in Italy, augment Patriot batteries in the USA and provide a new air-defence capability in Germany.

Wynne is expected to offer the partners the 2014 operational date as a compromise. The three governments are negotiating spending levels for the next phase of the programme. The pre-development phase of the programme is funded 55% by the USA, 28% by Germany and 17% by Italy.

Wynne has also extended the timetable for the on-going risk-reduction effort by roughly five months to September, says Glenn McLeod, business development director for MEADS International, a consortium that includes Lockheed Martin, MBDA Italia, EADS and LFK. This extension will give more time to plan the extended development phase, he adds.

Separately, the army has been given only four months to draw up an operational capabilities plan for the MEADS programme and have it approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

Source: Flight International