Major system elements of the tri-national Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) are in integration testing in preparation for its first flight test later this year, an official with MEADS International said.

The MEADS program is an effort between the United States, Germany and Italy. Prime contractor MEADS International is a multinational joint venture headquartered in Orlando, Fla. Major partners are MBDA in Italy, LFK in Germany and Lockheed Martin [LMT] in the United States.

Marty Coyne, MEADS International Business Development Director, told Defense Daily in a recent interview: “For the first intercept, we will be introducing the 360 degree X-Band tracking radar–tracking a real target and engaging an air-breathing threat.”

The fire control radar has just arrived at Italian Air Force Base Pratica di Mare south of Rome and joined the MEADS launcher and battle manager.

“It’s a risk reduction step we’re taking to ensure success in the actual intercept,” Coyne said. The integrated elements will be tracking live aircraft flying in and around the air force base, and simulated items will also be injected into the system to further integrate it, he said.

“Sometime later this calendar year” the items will be shipped to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., for the flight test.

In November, the MEADS system comprised of the PAC-3 Missile, Segment Enhancement (MSE), light-weight launcher and battle manager demonstrated an unprecedented over-the-shoulder launch of the MSE missile against a simulated missile attacking from behind (Defense Daily, Nov. 18).

By the end of 2012, there will be four major end items for the MEADS system, “unique stand alone items that are able to operate on their own, in a MEADS network or on any other because of the original open architecture requirement.

The three nations established that open vision about 10 years ago, because they wanted the flexibility to network assets to maximize their capability.

This vision was a departure from legacy systems where whole systems are hardwired and must deploy together.

The MEADS requirement “not only provides operational flexibility, it absolutely provides procurement flexibility,” Coyne said. “In future, a government will no longer have to write a big check to buy an entire weapon systems. Some countries might want only the battle management…and buy the quantity you want.”

That was behind the agreement last year to continue to the completion of MEADS proof of concept. The United States’ top Defense Department acquisition official also approved completing integration and test, and completing three flight tests through the end of 2013, Coyne said.

The three nations are expected to “harvest” some of the integrated and tested elements of the system according to their need.