By Marina Malenic

The Army is laying the groundwork for terminating a next-generation missile defense program being developed by Italy, Germany and the United States to replace the Patriot and other legacy systems, arguing that the system is too costly and no longer appropriate for countering the latest global threats.

A Feb. 2 draft internal Army document expresses officials’ concerns that requirements for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), formulated in 1999, “do not address current and emerging threats, a critical shortfall.”

“Current Army position is: Terminate MEADS,” reads the document. The Army instead advocates harvesting MEADS technologies and improving the Patriot program, while “engaging the international partners through” the traditional Foreign Military Sales process instead of a large-scale development effort.

Further, the Army estimates that “over $2.5 [billion] additional funding is required in FY12-17 to comply with expected MEADS cost growth and develop/test U.S. enhancements responsive to the U.S. threat versus the composite international threat.”

“The Army has minimal control over the design, development and execution of the system slated to replace Patriot,” the draft states. “The current MEADS program with planned [design and development] cost growth is unaffordable.”

Furthermore, a single MEADS battalion is currently planned to enter the U.S. arsenal in FY ’18, but that date is “expected to continue to slip,” according to the Army.

The Army is also concerned that, “at a minimum,” continuing U.S. MEADS funding will necessitate cutting procurement of 108 PAC-3 missiles and 20 Surface Launched Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile (SLAMRAAM) missiles, as well as terminating the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) development effort. And “funds used to pay MEADS cost growth will not be available to sustain and modernize the existing Patriot system, which is expected to remain in the force until beyond 2030, since MEADS will field only one battalion per year beginning in FY18,” the document states.

The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command is currently reviewing MEADS requirements, according to the document. In the mean time, “the system will not meet U.S. requirements or address the current and emerging threat without extensive and costly modifications,” the document states.

The document notes that Army officials are awaiting a March 10 Army-Missile Defense Agency briefing on which missile defense programs the service will transfer to the agency. If the Army is forced to retain MEADS, according to the document, the service will “recommend senior leadership pursue mutual termination or unilateral withdrawal from MEADS.”

Last year, the program was given the go-ahead for production of a test system after the countries considered and rejected the option of terminating the effort, with considerable cost overruns remaining a significant concern. MEADS last year completed a series of reviews of all its major components and began production of radars, launchers, tactical operation centers and reloaders needed for system tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

A multinational joint venture headquartered in Orlando, Fla., MEADS International’s participating companies are MBDA in Italy, LFK in Germany and Lockheed Martin [LMT] in the United States. The United States funds 58 percent of the program, and European partners Germany and Italy provide 25 percent and 17 percent, respectively, as partners in the NATO Medium Extended Air Defense System Management Organization.

The program is progressing in accordance with a revised schedule toward Critical Design Review (CDR) in August, Lockheed Martin officials have said recently. The current schedule is based on a mutually agreed plan by top Pentagon weapons buyer Ashton Carter and his German and Italian counterparts in an amended memorandum of understanding that addresses cost increases and schedule delays.

However, the internal Army document states that the service could begin withholding the U.S. FY ’11 commitment to the program on July 1. It also states that MEADS could be terminated “unilaterally or trilaterally” at the August CDR.

Termination costs, according to the document, would range from as low as $550 million to as high as $1 billion for a unilateral termination. If terminated trilaterally at CDR, the penalty paid to contractors could be less than $500 million.

MEADS is a mobile system that was expected to replace Patriot in the United States, the Nike Hercules in Italy and both the Hawk and Patriot systems in Germany. It was designed for interoperability among the three allies and to provide 360-degree coverage for troops against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft.