Just Say No to MEADS

As the United States government is tightening its belt, some examples of ways to do it stand out more than others.

The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) is over budget, 10 years late and needs another $804 million to complete its next phase.

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will likely talk about a number of pressing issues of dire global consequence on Tuesday in Washington -- ongoing support for our efforts in Afghanistan and tackling the economic crisis that threatens our future.

But, although the cost is a bit like loose change found in the couch by Pentagon standards, they should be finding a way to finally end the MEADS program.

America and its allies have a long and productive history of cooperation in defense and weapons systems.

But just as important as it is for the U.S. and its allies to engage in cooperative programs, it's just as important that we learn when to end them, especially in light of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' important work on austerity and transformation.

Such is the case with MEADS.

Originally conceived during the Clinton administration, MEADS is a joint venture between the U.S., Germany and Italy and was supposed to represent the next generation of in-theater missile defense.

MEADS was initially planned to be operational by 2008 but a series of setbacks has now pushed back that date to 2018.

The U.S. and Germany have agreed that the time has come to end the MEADS program.

However, there's a proposal to continue funding for MEADS through 2013 to complete the development phase of the system.

Can the U.S. -- straining under the weight of a $14.3 trillion debt -- afford a system that will never be deployed? Can Germany or Italy, suffering their own economic troubles, afford their share of this price tag?

Furthermore, the additional cost of funding MEADS for another two years will divert resources from the upgraded Patriot missile defense system, a battle-tested air defense program that has well served America's troops and those of our allies.

The argument for continuing MEADS funding through 2013 rather than shutting down the program this year is that the nations involved in MEADS could harvest emerging technology for use in other applications.

But MEADS technology has already been maturing for more than 15 years so if the objective is technology harvesting, 2011 presents the most opportune time for substantial cooperation between Germany and the U.S. in terms of integrating MEADS technology into the Patriot system.

In fact, of the dozen nations that use the Patriot system, the U.S. and Germany account for more than half of the fire units deployed worldwide.

From an economic perspective, continued funding for MEADS makes even less sense. With a difficult budget situation in the U.S. and similarly precarious budget challenges in Germany, which is currently shouldering a great burden in assisting the sagging economies of some of its EU neighbors, it's difficult to see the wisdom in spending close to $1,000,000,000 on a system that will never be used.

It's time for the U.S. and Germany to collectively decide to end the MEADS program now and continue with upgrades to the Patriot.

Germany and the U.S. have worked side-by-side on MEADS only to see the program plagued by delays and cost overruns. Now, the time has come for both nations to work just as cooperatively in bringing closure to the MEADS program in 2011.

Pfeifle is traveling to Germany in July with a delegation led by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.