Today’s threats have outgrown the Patriot missile-defense system - just ask a soldier. In hostile territory, is that soldier OK with air- and missile-defense protection that can’t move when he does? Is he OK with launchers and radars that protect against cruise and tactical ballistic missile attacks only if they come from the left, not if they come from the right? Does he believe 30- to 40-year-old hardware will be reliable enough to work when it has to?
After fighting in Iraq, U.S. leaders affirmed their need for a ground mobile air- and missile-defense system that could get to the fight, move with forces and provide 360-degree protection for them and their key assets. Trusted coalition allies Germany and Italy, recognizing the same need, offered to share the cost to develop MEADS and saved the United States $1.6 billion. Their ministries of defense again recently expressed unwavering commitments to MEADS to acting Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall in January and March.
Let’s be clear: MEADS does not have a cost overrun. Program expenditures were within the amount agreed upon when development started in 2004. Curiously, during the same period, the Patriot contractor has received twice as much U.S. funding to upgrade and fix Patriot, which is still limited to forward-facing launchers and 90-degree radar sectors and lacks the mobility needed in theater. Where the logic frays is that billions of additional dollars have been poured into the Patriot, and the army still doesn’t have a system that meets its requirements.
Does putting a new engine in a Model A make it perform like a Mustang? There’s only so much you can do to fix Patriot because of its Cold War architecture and technology limitations. We no longer face a Soviet threat that comes only from the east, and we shouldn’t ask our fighting forces to choose what part of their perimeter to leave undefended.
At the end of flight tests next year, the U.S. Army will have proven, networked, 360-degree, tactically mobile MEADS capabilities that can fix Patriot’s flaws. The United States is making the right investment in MEADS to fix the Army’s air- and missile-defense deficiencies and have access to the valuable technology already developed. The solution is nearly in hand with a small fraction of the cost remaining. U.S. taxpayers, our loyal allies Germany and Italy and our courageous soldiers deserve to see the completion of MEADS. Ask a soldier why it matters.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES CRAVENS
Commandant, U.S. Army Air Defense School (retired)
Former president, MEADS International
Grand Prairie, Texas