Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON DC Andy Nativi/ROME Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Scepticism and budget cuts threaten an international missile project

US defence officials hope that "critical" negotiations over the next two months will allow the USA, Germany and Italy to continue joint development of the Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS). But a backlash has left the future of the mobile surface-to-air missile (SAM) system in doubt.

The US Department of Defense recently announced plans to restructure the international programme to develop and acquire the next-generation, highly mobile, medium-range battlefield air defence weapon. MEADS would give manoeuvre forces 360¼ protection against theatre ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and various manned and unpiloted aircraft. Mounted on a wheeled vehicle, it would use a multi-canister vertical launcher to release its interceptors.

Dr David Martin, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's (BMDO) deputy for strategic relations, says there is "no guarantee" that the MEADS partners will reach agreement on a revamped programme, but he says Italy and Germany remain "solid partners" for now.

Recent talks in Bonn were "straightforward", he says, with BMDO's director, US Air Force Lt Gen Lester Lyles, "expressing strong interest to proceed, albeit not at the funding level that was anticipated". Dr Martin says the Italians and Germans "are disinclined to throw the MEADS programme away, start from scratch, or team with another partner".

However, the partners remain sceptical about the Pentagon's proposal for the MEADS, and Germany and Italy have lingering doubts about the DoD's commitment to the project.

Italian military sources did not welcome the MEADS restructuring because it would slow down the pace of the weapons project. The MEADS is intended to replace the Nike Hercules SAM, and the Italian air force wants it in service by 2005, which it says is a realistic target.

German defence sources hope the trilateral project can go forward because the requirement for the MEADS remains. The German parliamentary defence committee discussed the matter recently, but no information has been released on the outcome. How much Germany will commit to the MEADS will not be known until its next defence budget is revealed.

A MEADS joint steering committee is considering the future course of action, which Dr Martin says could include a demonstration programme within three or four years using available technologies, such as the Lockheed Martin Vought Systems Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) air defence missile.



Senior US defence officials have made it clear they want the MEADS programme to be restructured using the PAC-3 missile. Jacques Gansler, Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, says German and Italian officials must understand that using the PAC-3 missile would save money. He has left open the prospect for co-production of the missile.

Italian military sources say the MEADS restructuring plan faces a cold reception because the Italian air force does not believe the PAC-3 missile can meet the requirement. The sources say there is no rationale for waiting 12 years to field a missile that the US Army will begin to deploy next year. The officials, who declined to be identified, say the Italian air force and Ministry of Defence are considering the options and will make a final decision by year-end.

The restructuring of MEADS is part of the Clinton Administration's revamping of its programme for ballistic missile defence.

To reduce risk, the Pentagon delayed by two years the possible fielding of a national missile defence system , but it accelerated development of a sea-based "upper tier" theatre missile defence (TMD) system. The so-called Navy Theater Wide TMD weapon will be pitted against the US Army's troubled "hit-to-kill" Lockheed Martin Theatre High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system to determine which weapon will be deployed first.

US defence secretary William Cohen slashed funding earmarked for the $12 billion MEADS programme, and restructured the project "to explore less costly programme options by taking advantage of existing missile development programmes", such as the PAC-3, which is also a hit-to-kill weapon.

Only $150 million in US funding is planned over the next three years ($50 million in fiscal year 2000, $65 million in 2001 and $35 million in 2002) for the development of MEADS components, including an advanced 360¼ sweep fire-control radar and a new mobile launcher. US funding beyond 2002 is unknown. How much Germany and Italy will contribute remains to be seen, but MEADS funding is already in short supply. The Pentagon had sought $43 million for the MEADS this year, but the US Congress approved only $10 million for research.

The decision to slow the programme came as project officials were ready to select one contractor team to enter the design and development phase, which was worth about $4 billion. Among other things, MEADS project officials must decide whether to keep both contractor teams involved or eliminate one.

Low-rate initial production had been due to start in 2003, with full-rate production following operational testing and evaluation of systems. Initial fielding of the MEADS had been set for 2007, but US defence officials now say: "The bottom line is that it will be well after 2010 before MEADS could be deployed."

The origins of the MEADS go back to the Corps SAM project of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Corps SAM, a joint US Army-US Marine Corps programme, was intended to replace the rapidly ageing Raytheon Hawk air defence system in service since the early 1960s.

In the early 1990s, Germany expressed an interest in joining the Corps SAM project, co-operating on system development and production. Like the USA, Germany's interest stemmed from a need to replace ageing HAWK systems. Soon afterwards, France and then Italy also wanted to join forces.

The USA, Germany, Italy and France signed a multilateral statement of intent in February 1995 to collaborate on the MEADS, but France dropped out before the memorandum of understanding was signed in May 1996. The USA, Germany and Italy agreed to split workshare and development costs by a ratio of 60%, 25% and 15% respectively.

Since October 1996, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have each been teamed with DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa), Siemens and Alenia on the MEADS. Under competing $80 million, 27-month programme definition and validation (PD-V) research contracts, they completed development of detailed performance specifications, demonstrated critical system functions, and reduced technical risk on the advanced hit-to-kill weapon.



A US General Accounting Office report said in June last year: "The MEADS programme would realise the largest cost reductions if existing radars or missiles could meet MEADS requirements-army engineers said that existing missiles, such as PAC-3, might be capable against the theatre ballistic missile threat that MEADS is expected to counter.

"However, the Patriot project office has not simulated PAC-3's performance against the MEADS entire ballistic missile threat and cannot do so without additional funds. In addition, the army stated PAC-3 may have limitations against the long-term cruise missile threat."

The investigative arm of the US Congress also says current radars do not meet MEADS requirements. For example, army engineers say the THAAD system's ground-based radar cannot provide protection from all directions and is too large and heavy for a mobile system. The engineers also say that the radar used with the USMC's HAWK air defence system takes too long to move and is too heavy to be mobile.

Whether the still in-development Patriot PAC-3 missile matches the MEADS requirements remains to be seen, but the PAC-3 air defence system cannot keep pace with manoeuvre forces and will not provide protection from all directions.

However, Lockheed Martin has worked on a lightweight Patriot launcher that can carry eight PAC-3s on a 5t medium tactical vehicle chassis. The launcher would, for the first time, allow deployment on the Lockheed Martin C-130 tactical transport, with one launcher carried per aircraft. The proposed launcher would weigh 16,000kg (35,250lb), compared with 36,000kg for the current variant.

Three years ago, Germany agreed to field the PAC-3 missile system, and Lockheed Martin Vought Systems and Dasa recently set up a joint venture for PAC-3 missile work in Germany. The German Government's goal is to field a PAC-3 variant to replace its current Patriot within a year of the US PAC-3 being fielded.

The joint venture company is expected to undertake offset production of missile equipment, and final missile integration, test and logistic support for Germany's PAC-3 missile procurement. The venture could be modified if a revamped MEADS incorporatingthePAC-3 missile wins approval.

Italian officials are also unhappy about technology transfer issues during the PD-V phase. They say the "black veil" must be lifted if the MEADS is to survive. A US industry official says: "The Europeans want assurances that they will see MEADS, not just some technology for technology's sake. They want a commitment that the Pentagon will fund MEADS beyond this current research effort."

Whatever the outcome of negotiations, Dr Martin says that the MEADS remains a valid US military requirement.

Source: Flight International