German official warns US against cuts to joint missile program

A top German defense official has told the Pentagon that eliminating or trimming Washington's financial contribution to a missile defense program it is developing with Berlin and Rome "is not an option."

The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is slated to become "the basis for the German air-defense architecture" and that nation's portion of an envisioned NATO missile defense system, Detlef Selhausen, the German Federal Ministry of Defense's director of armaments, wrote to Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter.

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"This objective can be reached only if the remaining financial commitments necessary for the joint development are met as planned," Selhausen wrote in the letter dated July 2011 and obtained by The Hill. 

"For this reason, joint termination of the current MEADS development is not an option for Germany. It would ... be difficult to reconcile any joint termination with German budgetary law."

The MEADS is a joint missile defense program between Washington and two European allies. Work on the system is done and financed by Lockheed in the 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.

The German official urged Carter to uphold U.S. "contribution commitments — even beyond the development phase," however.

The letter shows Berlin is closely monitoring the budget situation in Washington, where members of both parties on Capitol Hill have, as they grapple with the nation's dire finances, targeted the program for cuts.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman, said recently that 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.”

The House's Pentagon appropriations measure would cut the administration’s $407 million request by $150 million.

The House Appropriations Committee wrote in a report accompanying that bill that the funding cut is “based on the Army implementation of a well organized plan with close cooperation between the [three] members and a spending plan that avoids worst case funding situations.”

The House-passed Defense Authorization Act for 2012 contains a section that would slap limits on federal funds for the program until it is terminated or restructured to provide technologies that could be used in other weapon programs. The authorization measure would reduce MEADS funding by $149.5 million in 2012.

A version of Defense authorization legislation passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee would zero Pentagon funding for the joint U.S.-Italian-German program.

Carter and other Obama administration officials have warned that zeroing or trimming U.S. funding for the MEADS program would bring new costs to the Pentagon and essentially double-cross two allies.

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 are to: (1) terminate unilaterally in accordance with our agreement, or (2) restructure the program to … a demonstration,” DOD acquisition chief Ashton Carter wrote in a May 9 letter to lawmakers.

“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 in a letter 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 added. 

If congressional cuts force DOD to terminate its contract with Germany and Italy, "this would ... endanger two core aspects of our common objectives that are extremely important for Germany," Selhausen wrote, pointing to "the controlled archiving of the resulting development data ... and the preparation of European industry or multinational follow-on activities."