Panetta presses Congress for MEADs funding

The defense secretary lobbies Congress to salvage the failed international missile defense system.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hopes to save an international missile defense program that the U.S. Army has already decided it will not field.

The Pentagon boss wrote a letter sent June 26 to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, pleading for his support to insert $400.9 million back into the budget to fund the Medium Extended Air Defense System in 2013. Congress has already denied Panetta’s budget request to fund the mobile missile defense system originally designed to replace the Patriot.

Pentagon leaders had planned to end the program next year after the system had repeatedly experienced delays and cost over runs since the start of development in the 1990s. Lockheed Martin has said it has gotten the program under control and has met key bench marks since 2007.

Congress has chosen to terminate the program by cutting out funding in 2013, the last year of the Proof of Concept phase saying the nation can’t afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on systems it does not plan on buying.

Panetta and other Pentagon leaders want to pay for this last year in hopes of harvesting the 360-degree long-range surveillance radar that engineers have developed as part of MEADS. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh recommended to Congress that the service finish the program next year even though key lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., loudly criticized the Pentagon for signing an agreement with costly cancellation fees.

What complicates the matter is the U.S. is just one of three NATO countries aligned to develop MEADS. The U.S. is joined by Italy and Germany, although the U.S. is funding 58 percent of the program, which is led by Meads International Inc., which is made up of Lockheed Martin, Lfk-Lenkflugkoerpersysteme GmbH and MBDA.

Panetta told Inouye in his letter that pulling out in the last year would be “viewed by our allies as reneging on our promises.” Officials from Italy and Germany have each said they plan to fund the program.

This is not the first year the Pentagon has had to plead for funding for MEADS after Congress had originally denied it. Last year, the Senate terminated the $400.6 million requested by the Pentagon while the House of Representatives cut the request down to $145.9 million. After lobbying efforts by the U.S. military as well as German and Italian diplomats, funding for MEADS was reinstated.

Marty Coyne, Lockheed Martin’s business development executive for the MEADS program, said earlier this month at the Eurosatory land warfare conference in Paris that he remained confident that Congress would fund MEADS in 2013 after seeing how Congress reversed it’s original denial of funding last year.