LE BOURGET, France A $4 billion transatlantic missile defense program designed to replace the aging U.S. Patriot system is poised to move the program from the drawing board to a detailed design phase.
The NATO Medium Extended Air Defense Systems (MEADS) is being touted by prime contractor Lockheed Martin Inc. as a "plug-and-fight" system capable of integrating and controlling disparate systems like interceptors. Because MEADS will be designed to handle a variety of interceptors and other system elements, program officials claimed MEADS will be far more flexible than Patriot and Hawk missile batteries now being phased out in Europe.
They added during a Tuesday (June 19) briefing on the MEADS program here during the Paris Air Show that MEADS will provide 360-degree radar coverage and be far more mobile than Patriot. A key requirement for new weapons is the ability to quickly deliver them to the battlefield. Lockheed and its German and Italian partners said the system will be designed to fit in C-130J transport planes capable of landing on nearly any runway.
Unlike Patriot, which requires three sector radars to provide full coverage, the MEADS surveillance radar can scan a 360-degree area. But the big test will be whether MEADS surveillance and fire-control radars will be able to quickly detect and zero in on emerging threats like stealthy, low-flying cruise missiles and tactical ballistics missiles. Then, MEADS interceptors will likely have to overcome countermeasures such as decoys in order to knock out enemy missiles in their "terminal" phase when they achieve their greatest velocity.
Patriot proved unsuccessful during the first Gulf War in knocking out relatively slow Iraqi ballistic missiles. MEADS program officials did not disclose what technologies would be included in the system to defeat decoys or other countermeasures.
The system includes surveillance and fire-control radars, a launcher, reloader, interceptor and a battle management system. MEADS is designed to protect rapidly moving forces, a key element of NATO's maneuver warfare doctrine.
The U.S. is contributing 58 percent of the funding for MEADS, while Germany contributes 25 percent and Italy 17 percent. "Work share follows the cost share," said a Lockheed Martin official, referring to how future production would be divided.
MEADS International, the transatlantic joint venture designing the missile-defense system, signed a $3.4 billion design and development contract in June 2005. MEADS International includes MBDA Italia, EADS/LFK in Germany and Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.).
MEADS will begin a new phase of development next week (June 27) known in Pentagon acquisition parlance as a preliminary design review. If the program moves to a production phase, initial deployment in Europe could start in 2012 and two years later in the U.S., program officials said.