By Michael J. Del Rosso
Defense spending today is higher than during the Reagan administration, but we have less than half the military force and capability of the Reagan years. Instead of Reagan’s 20-division Army, we have 10 divisions. Instead of his 600-ship Navy, we have 280 ships. And the Air Force has less than half the number of fighters and bombers it did 30 years ago — and they are 28 years old, on average.
Sequestration and budget cuts are accelerating this dangerous decline, forcing each branch of the military to plan for further painful reductions in readiness and system acquisitions. All of which makes the recent test of a missile system named MEADS so very curious.
The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), built by Lockheed Martin, was supposed to replace the Patriot missile defense system now deployed by 12 nations around the globe, including the U.S. Army. The press release from the MEADS prime contractor regarding the system’s November 6th test at White Sands Missile Range said it was the “most advanced and capable air and missile defense weapon system in the world.”
But neither the press release nor a full-page ad in The Washington Post mentioned that in February 2011 the Pentagon found that MEADS was unaffordable and did not meet Army requirements. Besides that, the Army estimated it would need $800 million to simply make MEADS meet the performance of today’s Patriot system, and a further $12 billion would be required for procurement. MEADS was unaffordable in 2011, and it is even more unaffordable in the budget and sequestration environment of 2013.
It is no surprise, then, that MEADS has myriad opponents in Congress.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R- NH), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who agreed with the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army in March, saying MEADS is “a weapons system that the Pentagon won’t use and Congress doesn’t want to fund.” Adding, “We shouldn’t waste any more money on a ‘missile to nowhere’ that will never reach the battlefield.” The Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office also supported the U.S. Army’s conclusions.
The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) and Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) agree with Sen. Ayotte that taxpayers should not have paid for the November test since the Pentagon has no plans to deploy a system dogged by $2 billion of cost overruns and delays that put it 10 years behind schedule. TPA noted that foreign “partners” in MEADS International, Italy and Germany, see MEADS as a European jobs program with the U.S. paying for most of the cost and that, “Taxpayers shouldn’t be funding international marketing of a failed missile system.”
Supporting TPA and CAGW is Dean G. Popps, former Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics And Technology. He wrote in Defense News, “(MEADS) lives on in a perpetual state of design and development, with no real buyers in sight. To some it gives the appearance of a high-tech jobs program for foreign partner nations rather than a system that will be fielded in earnest.”
Some argue the November 6 test paves the way for the Army to “harvest” MEADS technologies, particularly the radar and MSE missile, and incorporate them into Patriot and other systems. What is not mentioned is that the MSE missile is already part of Patriot, and incorporating the radar would not be a simple “plug and play” exercise. The cost of integrating 10-year old MEADS legacy systems with modern and updated Patriot systems would be very costly, and would take years.
Despite using three MSE missiles that cost more than $15 million, the November test did not demonstrate anything new. Put simply, it was a marketing event with media, marketeers, and MEADS stakeholders outnumbering warfighters and observers experienced in air and missile defense. The event was just another attempt to convince Congress and the Pentagon to continue spending scarce resources for a system that cannot even meet today’s requirements.
So how does MEADS continue to live on, despite repeated efforts to end the program? Think about it. The Army doesn’t want it. Neither does the Pentagon. Taxpayer groups don’t like it. Democrats and Republicans are on record opposing it, and non-partisan groups have criticized it. Nevertheless, MEADS proves very hard to kill. In June, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) compared it to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction: “You think (MEADS) is dead and it keeps popping out of the bathtub again.”
As we struggle to find money to protect the troops in harm’s way, we cannot continue funding a “missile to nowhere.”
Michael J. Del Rosso is a Research Fellow in National Security Policy at the Claremont Institute.