WASHINGTON — The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is being scrutinized on both sides of the Atlantic as budgets tighten.

A trinational program among Germany, Italy and the United States, MEADS is being looked at in the United States under an Army review of its air and missile defense portfolio. The review is one of several led by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli as the service gears up to build its next six-year spending plan.

As part of the portfolio reviews, the Army is going back to its original requirements’ documents and asking whether those are still valid, said Rickey Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center-Forward.

In a Feb. 25 article, Defense Daily reported the Army is looking to shed the system, either by handing management off to the Missile Defense Agency or terminating the program. The Army planned to discuss transfers of missile defense programs, including MEADS, with the Missile Defense Agency on March 10, according to the article.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings confirmed the March 10 meeting took place and described it as “a regular internal meeting that covered a number of topics.”

If the program came under the management of the Missile Defense Agency, it would little affect the NATO organization that manages the program on behalf of the nations, said Greg Kee, general manager for the NATO MEADS Management Agency. Kee said one change might be an MDA official replacing the American representative to the trinational board of directors, currently Brig. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco, Army program executive officer for missiles and space.

The trination contract would make a unilateral withdrawal from the program quite costly, an industry source said. But those costs could be negotiated down if more than one country decided to withdraw, the source added.

The United States funds 58 percent of the development program, Germany 25 percent and Italy 17 percent. Lockheed Martin leads the international industry team developing the system. The design and development contract is for roughly $3.4 billion, but the overall program cost is still being determined.

The Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office is doing a new cost estimate for the program “as we speak,” Kee said.

Meanwhile, citing growing cost and schedule delays, the German Parliament is debating whether it wants to spend additional funds to complete the MEADS design and development phase, according to an industry source. During a March 4 budget committee meeting, it was recommended the German Ministry of Defense evaluate whether an alternative system to MEADS could defend against similar air threats, according to the source. Defense Daily first reported on the meeting.

The German government recommended the study include an investigation of whether an improved Patriot system could be an adequate substitute. MEADS is currently intended to replace Patriot, Hawk and Nike systems.

Raytheon began redesigning and upgrading its Patriot system after signing a $3.3 billion new-build contract with the United Arab Emirates in December 2008, said an industry source.

The study’s findings are to be reported to the German Parliament’s budget committee by June 30, before the August system-level critical design review for MEADS.

The three countries’ national armaments directors met in October and reaffirmed their commitment to MEADS, instructing NATO program managers to continue to the August critical design review, Kee said. The agency was also told to complete the planning to finish the design and development phase of the program, he added.

The original memorandum of agreement scheduled the design and development portion of the program through 2013. That phase is now expected to extend to 2015, so the memorandum is being updated to reflect this, Kee said. A new memorandum will need to be signed by the end of 2012, he added.

The MEADS program is funded in the U.S. Army’s 2011 budget, and Kee said his office’s portion of those funds would go toward building both the hardware and software for the first flight test in 2012.

Kee said his office is set to begin fielding the system, under a new program schedule, in 2015 to Germany and Italy. He said he needs to validate a fiscal 2018 fielding date with the U.S. Army.

There is also international interest for the production phase of MEADS, but Kee would not say which country or countries are interested.