NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff of the Army sent letters supporting the tri-national Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) “proof of concept” plan before the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) defense panel completed work on the bill.

MEADS is a next-generation, ground-mobile air and missile defense system that incorporates the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) Missile, 360-degree radars, netted and distributed battle management and high-firepower launchers.

The SAC- D report on the defense-appropriations bill recommends full funding of the proof of concept for the air defense program under development by the United States, Germany and Italy that would cost $406 million in fiscal year 2012, $397 million in FY ’13. The plan culminates in flight tests, the first of which is slated for November.

But not everyone is supportive of MEADS. On the Senate floor recently, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had hard words for his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee: “In some cases, the Appropriations Committee was well aware that the Armed Services Committee had, on a unanimous vote, reported out a bill that denied funding for a program, but the Appropriators funded the full amount anyway. This is the case with the Army’s Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) cut the entire $406 million budget request because Army leaders told Senators technical reviews determined the program was behind schedule over cost and at risk of technical failure, thus, the land force does not intend to buy or deploy the system.

“The Appropriations Committee ignored the Armed Services Committee decision not to authorize further funding for MEADS and instead appropriated the full amount of $406 million – even in the face of the need to cut Defense spending by eliminating troubled programs that are not effectively providing increased combat capability for the troops,” McCain, a SASC member, said.

In letters sent Sept. 14, Navy Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command, urged the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Vice Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to consider allowing the design and development phase of the program to be completed “to demonstrate U.S. fidelity to our international commitments while providing the flexibility to engage in this program should future threats require a re-evaluation of fielded U.S. capabilities.”

Allowing work to go forward would protect U.S. and allied investments Stavridis said, while permitting Germany and Italy to “enhance their national military capabilities in a way that would add value to overall Alliance missile defense.”

Stavridis pointed out that the United States has repeatedly urged allies to share in the cost burdens of missile defense, and early termination of the program would prevent allies from receiving necessary technology to acquire a system able to improve their national military capabilities and providing national contributions to NATO ballistic missile defense.

Continuing the program makes operational and fiscal sense, Stavridis said.

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli urged support of the MEADS proof of concept program in letters to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees as well as the leaders of the defense panels of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Letters to all expressed the Army’s strong support for the MEADS proof of concept funding.

Chiarelli wrote in the Sept 8 letters that the MEADS proof of concept funds are “critical to preserving the Army’s portfolio of air and Missile Defense systems.”

Particularly, he wrote, due to the way the contract is written, this way of terminating the program saves money and allows the “harvesting of promising technologies for possible inclusion in future upgrades or systems.”

As has been pointed out, Chiarelli wrote, without full funding, the United States would incur significant costs associated with unilaterally withdrawing from the tri-national Memorandum of Agreement.

“The requirement to pay these costs would likely fall upon the Army and consume resources currently programmed for other important Air and Missile defense programs,” Chiarelli wrote. “Even the planned Patriot System modernization may be affected were this scenario to occur.”

The proof of concept plan would avoid such impacts and also would provide important technical data, prove new air defense concepts and technologies and preserve competitive options for new and less-costly future air and missile defense technologies.

The MEADS program is led by MEADS International, a multinational joint venture with major partners MBDA in Italy, LFK in Germany and Lockheed Martin [LMT] in the United States.