WASHINGTON — U.S. and European defense authorities have approved three flight tests, including two target intercepts, of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) under a modified contract that expires in 2014, according to the industrial consortium that is developing the system.

The demonstration campaign, which also includes a sensor characterization test, will close out U.S. involvement in MEADS, which has been in development since 2004 under a memorandum of agreement with Germany and Italy. The United States intends to withdraw from the program before production begins.

The tests will begin with a flight this fall at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, N.M., that will demonstrate the system’s ability to engage targets coming from all directions, according to MEADS International, a German-Italian-U.S. joint venture. During the test, a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement interceptor will be fired from a recently arrived MEADS launcher featuring 360-degree engagement capability against a simulated threat.

The first intercept test is planned for late 2012 against an air-breathing target, MEADS International said in a press release dated Nov. 3. The second, scheduled for late 2013, would be against a tactical ballistic missile target and would be preceded by the sensor characterization test, the press release said.

“The program remains within the funding limit authorized by the three nations in the 2004 MEADS Memorandum of Understanding,” the press release said.

As part of its 2012 budget request, the U.S. Defense Department proposed converting the long-running development program into a proof of concept effort that would receive $804 million in U.S. funding for two more years. The Pentagon said it would withdraw from the program after that time, leaving Germany and Italy to decide whether to proceed with production of the system.

In a June 15 letter to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Ashton Carter, who at the time was the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, said the U.S. government committed to the $4 billion, nine-year MEADS design and development effort in the memorandum of understanding. The agreement requires any partner who unilaterally withdraws to pay any resulting contract modification or termination costs, the letter stated.

Carter, who in October was promoted to deputy secretary of defense, said the U.S. government explored early termination of MEADS with Germany and Italy but that they “clearly stated they have no interest” in doing so. “Unilateral U.S. withdrawal and termination of the program would ensure the Department and its international partners receive nothing for our MEADS investment, at a cost comparable to completing the restructured Proof of Concept effort,” the letter stated.

The House version of the 2012 defense spending bill provides $257 million of the Army’s $406.6 million request for the program, a reduction of nearly 37 percent. The Senate version of the bill expresses concern about the program’s execution but nonetheless recommends full funding, citing the Pentagon’s need to fulfill its contractual obligations and reap some benefit from its investment.

“Limiting the remaining funding for MEADS, resulting in unilateral U.S. withdrawal, would have grave effects on our ongoing capability development, our ability to build our partners’ capacity in air and missile defense, and, potentially, on our current and future NATO commitments to missile defense,” Carter stated in his letter, which was posted on the MEADS International website. “With MEADS involvement, the United States has both the opportunity to harvest technologies for future integration into air and missile defense systems and the potential for enhanced allied air and missile defense capability. The MEADS partners have clearly and repeatedly told us they intend to continue with the program.”

In a prepared statement, MEADS International President Dave Berganini said the company is focused on executing the recently approved test plan.

Orlando, Fla.-based MEADS International is a joint venture of MBDA of Italy, LFK of Germany and Lockheed Martin of the United States.



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...