Seeing a potential end to its trinational Medium Extended Air Defense System as it struggles to complete development and enter production without further support from the United States, Lockheed Martin is upping the stakes for its second and final flight test of the air and missile defense system.
The Lockheed Martin-led consortium developing MEADS is requesting approval from Italy, Germany and the United States – the program’s three partners – to expand the scope of its final flight trial slated for November.
Originally, this trial was slated to pit MEADS only against a theater ballistic missile (TBM) threat. MEADS successfully intercepted an air-breathing target during its first flight test, late last year.
To better showcase the capabilities of MEADS, though, the team hopes to conduct a “dual-launch” scenario whereby an air-breathing cruise missile and a TBM would be flown against the system nearly simultaneously and 120-deg. apart.
This is intended to tax the MEADS surveillance and fire control radars, which are designed to provide 360-deg. of coverage against a classified number of threats simultaneously. Ideally, the test will include a single fire control unit and two launchers – the addition of the second launcher is intended to add further complexity to the demonstration, as well.
“We think we are mature enough to demonstrate this in our very second intercept test,” said Marty Coyne, the top MEADS business development executive for Lockheed Martin.
Owing to a funding shortage, the MEADS development program was limited to $3.4 billion for completion and trimmed from seven flight tests to two, so MEADS officials are hoping to maximize the next and final test as much as possible.
The United States has agreed to complete development – and Congress appears poised to provide the final $380 million needed to do so – but pulled out of the production program that would follow. In the development partnership, Washington contributed 58% of the funding, with Germany offering 25% and Italy the remaining 17%.
Italy and Germany are now in talks to continue development and begin low-rate production under what they call the European Follow-on Program (EFOP). The pair is expected to move forward with EFOP while soliciting partners in parallel to join in a full-rate production program to follow.
Formal talks to lay out an EFOP plan are expected this fall at the latest, Coyne says.
Poland is a strong candidate for production, according to Italian defense officials.
Meanwhile, Washington, Berlin and Rome are in talks to divide up the hardware produced under the development phase of MEADS. As talks stand now, it appears that Italy and Germy will each get a single fire control radar and two launchers. The United States has been aggressive its interest in the surveillance radar, Coyne says.
A U.S. Army “technology harvesting” team crafted to examine what the United States hopes to take away from MEADS is expected to provide a final report to the Army with its recommendations following the November flight test.
“We are optimistic the US Army will choose to procure individual items and integrate them into their network,” Coyne says. MEADS was developed to be “plug-and-play,” allowing various components to work with other, legacy equipment such as the Patriot and Hawk air defense systems.
The U.S. is not interested in three battle managers built during development because it has funded the Northrop Grumman Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) for its core capability.
The MEADS consortium is now in talks with Northrop Grumman to demonstrate use of the MEADS surveillance radar with IBCS during a major test event for the latter slated for the end of the year. The test would be funded by industry and is designed to prove the Army that the MEADS can truly plug and play with other systems.
Coyne says the market for MEADS sales is as high as 20 countries despite Washington’s decision not to buy the whole system.