In the throes of sequestration, on the heels of a government shutdown and with our national debt at a record high, it seems like an odd time for the Department of Defense to get into the marketing business. Yet, a marketing stunt would be the only accurate way to describe yesterday’s Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) “test” at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has long identified MEADS as the poster child for waste and redundancy at the Department of Defense. It is an easy case to make, and in fact, TPA identified MEADS as one of the biggest taxpayer “Tricks” during this past Halloween (read more here).
After more than $2 billion in cost overruns and delays that put development 10 years behind schedule, the Pentagon rightly pulled the plug on the tri-national program in 2011. The Army didn’t want the program because it was too expensive and was plagued by a host of technical problems that confirmed MEADS just wasn’t up to the task. The Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office supported the Army’s conclusions.
Yet, here we are some two and half years later and the Department of Defense is still spending taxpayer dollars on the system that TPA has dubbed the “Missile to Nowhere.” In fact, in the last two years alone, our government will have spent another $800 million on this botched program.
But what makes yesterday’s test so troubling is that U.S. taxpayers picked up the tab for a stunt that provides zero benefit to our Armed Forces.
The fact is that MEADS’ prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, needed another MEADS demonstration to court other international partners with the U.S. refusing to buy the system. This is only the second for the system since it was conceived in 1995. Other missile systems are tested many times before they are considered “battle ready.” Our “partners,” Italy and Germany, have long seen MEADS as a European jobs program, and with the U.S. paying for the majority of the system costs, it is no surprise that they, too, want MEADS to live on.
Writing for Defense News in September of this year, Dean G. Popps, a former acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology flatly concluded: “For complex international reasons, some involving the NATO fight in Afghanistan and the need to bolster Europe’s economy, [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.”
Look no further than the press release Lockheed Martin put out yesterday, proclaiming the “test” a success. The release features more mentions of Italy, Germany, and Europe than it does the United States. That’s right – the country footing the bill for yesterday’s marketing stunt is a mere afterthought for a defense contractor in desperate need of new customers. Lockheed is said to be targeting more than a dozen potential nations, with Poland at the top of the list.
Less surprising then is Defense News’ headline about yesterday’s test: “MEADS Completes Successful Test; Poland Considering Buying In.” In this brief recap, Poland is mentioned six times. The message is clear: Yesterday’s test was more about Lockheed’s desire to court Poland than it was about protecting our troops. It is stunning example of corporate welfare at a time when Americans need the Pentagon to take spending reforms seriously.
Yesterday’s test is yet another sad chapter for MEADS in what DoD’s chief financial officer, Robert Hale, has called “a very troubled history.” Let’s just hope that Congress and the Pentagon ensure it MEADS’ last. Taxpayers shouldn’t be funding international marketing of a failed missile system.