Pentagon concerned about House plan to slash missile defense

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has concerns about a House-approved plan to terminate a missile defense system Washington is working on with Italy and Germany.

A section of the House-approved Pentagon policy bill would place limits on federal funds for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program until it is terminated or restructured to provide technologies that could be used in other weapon programs.

The measure would reduce MEADS funding by $149.5 million in 2012.

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The MEADS is a joint missile defense program between Washington and two European allies. Work on the system is done and financed in by Lockheed in United States, MBDA in Italy, and by EADS in Germany.

The Pentagon announced in February that, due primarily to delays and cost breaches, it will not buy and field the system. The department decided it would continue the development phase and provide funding up to the agreed upon ceiling of $4 billion (in 2004 dollars), according to a DOD fact sheet.

“We believe implementation of a proof of concept [development] program, using the remaining [development] funds contributed by the three nations, is the best option for all MEADS partners,” DOD said in the fact sheet.

But House and Senate lawmakers question why the Pentagon wants to dump billions into a program that will never produce a single unit for combat.

The House Armed Services Committee crafted the proposals in the 2012 policy bill.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman, said he is concerned about “authorizing over $800 million in fiscal year 2012 and 2013 for a program that the Department does not intend to procure, and whose record of performance, according to a DOD fact sheet, ‘might ordinarily make it a candidate for cancellation.’”

Turner also said senior military officials have told the House panel they are not yet convinced a “MEADS proof-of-concept was viable.”

Defense officials say it would be better to continue development and use that discovery for other advanced technologies to be used on other systems. What’s more, Pentagon officials say if the U.S. backs out of the three-nation pact, it will have to pay a huge bill.

“At this time, our partners have no interest in a mutual termination of the MEADS program and the options open to use are: (1) terminate unilaterally in accordance with our agreement, or (2) restructure the program to … a demonstration,” DOD acquisition chief Ashton Carter wrote lawmakers in a May 9 letter.

“Termination of the program would ensure the department and its international partners receive nothing for our MEADS investment while costing approximately the same amount as the department’s request for a proof of concept demonstration,” Carter wrote.

The letter was addressed to House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

“We are actively working to ensure that the remaining funds are used in a way to ensure we get something both for our prior and remaining investment,” Carter wrote.

Cutting the program’s funding by $149.5 million would make it “impractical to carry out either of the options available,” the DOD buying chief wrote. “Adoption of this provision, when combined with the cut in funding, would leave us with no executable plan for MEADS.”


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