On November 29, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) had its first successful test run, during which it intercepted an air-breathing target (that is, a missile that does not fly outside the Earth’s atmosphere).
While the Pentagon decided not to procure the MEADS program, Congress recently eliminated the funding that would allow the completion of the system’s test phase. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urged Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D–HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to restore the funding for the MEADS program in June. The most recent successful test demonstrates that Congress should fund the system in fiscal year 2013 and that MEADS should receive support from Washington beyond just the test phase.
The MEADS system is designed to counter unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, tactical short-range ballistic missiles, and aircraft. The system itself consists of surveillance radar with 360-degree coverage, a tactical operations center, sophisticated X-band radar, launchers, and the next-generation Patriot interceptor.
This recent test of MEADS continues a string of successful program developments since its start in 2004 when the U.S., Germany, and Italy signed the trilateral agreement to jointly develop and procure the system. The program successfully completed its component-level critical design review in August 2009. The first flight test was conducted in November 2011.
The system provides an additional layer of protection and compliments other U.S. missile defense programs, such as the Aegis sea-based missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System.
MEADS is also important for U.S. alliance relationships. Both Italy and Germany fulfilled their respective commitments regarding the funding of the system. U.S. termination of the system will create a critical capability gap in air and short-range missile and rocket defense. It is also important to keep in mind that the system is transportable and can keep up with the high operational tempo of the current force.
As the ballistic missile threat is advancing, it would be unwise to terminate funding for this capability.
Nick Baranishyn is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.