The White House has warned that banning funding for the MEADS program could harm Washington’s broader relationship with its allies, jeopardizing the kind of multinational projects favored by the Obama administration as budget pressures mount.
In the meantime, officials said they are using money carried over from last year to continue preparing for the biggest test the new system has ever faced, which will show whether it can intercept a tactical ballistic missile.
In November, the MEADS system demonstrated its 360-degree capability to detect, track and destroy an “air-breathing” target, a term used to describe airplanes and cruise missiles, versus ballistic missiles.
The Pentagon announced last year that it would stop funding the MEADS program after development ended in fiscal 2013, calling it unaffordable in the current budget climate.
That prompted Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and other lawmakers to call for an immediate funding freeze, but Italy and Germany say Washington will be held liable if it unilaterally pulls out of the development program.
Lockheed and MEADS executives say the MEADS system offers broader protection against missile attacks that the older Patriot system, and is easier and cheaper to transport. They say it is needed more than ever given Washington’s pivot to focus more on the Asia-Pacific region with greater distances to cover.
They say the technologies developed under the program can be transferred to future integrated air defense systems that protect troops against a range of threats -- as long as Washington makes the final required payments.
Meanwhile, Raytheon Co, which had bid against Lockheed to build the MEADS system, is continuing to modernize and upgrade its Patriot missile defense system, which first entered the U.S. Army’s inventory in 1982.
Tim Glaeser, vice president with Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business, said new foreign orders since 2008 have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrades such as new digital processors, touch panel screens in the manned ground stations, and portable trainers.