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MEADS in the Spotlight

In the aftermath of its successful first flight test in November of last year, representatives from MEADS [Medium Extended Air Defense System] International used the venue of the recent Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium and Exhibition to highlight a number of program accomplishments and milestones.

MEADS International, a multinational joint venture, is prime contractor for the MEADS program. Major subcontractor and joint venture partners include MBDA in Italy and Germany and Lockheed Martin in the United States.

Offering recently cleared video of the successful first flight test on Nov. 17, 2011, Marty Coyne, MEADS business development director at Lockheed Martin, observed, “This was the first time ever in air and missile defense that [a system] has demonstrated a 360 degree [target engagement] capability.”

The accompanying video segments include a short clip of the missile leaving the launcher, in which the initial firing of the forward Divert/Attitude Control System (DACS) can be seen. The process allowed the missile to turn in flight to demonstrate engagement capabilities against a simulated target approaching from the rear of the launcher.

“On November 17 we went out to White Sands Missile Range with three of our ‘end items’ – the lightweight launcher; the MEADS missile, which is the MSE [Patriot PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement]; and our Battle Manager,” Coyne explained. “And we conducted the first of three flight tests as part of our new Demonstration of Capabilities phase.”

“This test was significant because we ‘attacked’ a simulated target coming from literally behind us – directly behind us,” he said. “So the missile and the launcher and the command from the Battle Manager literally performed flawlessly. As you know, all major programs have significant simulation in the background that predicts performance and allow us to learn about the system. The launcher and the missile performed ‘dead on,’ exactly the way we predicted it.”

He continued, “The missile came out; our MEADS launcher is 70 degrees, near vertical – we don’t have to go vertical – but that allows that single launcher to defend any asset in a full 360 degrees. So you don’t need to have multiple launchers and you don’t need to have multiple weapon systems out there, if you have a single launcher that can service a target from any direction.”

Coyne noted that the “lightweight” description applied to the MEADS launcher reflects the fact that it weighs under 50,000 pounds, which he characterized as “nearly half the weight” of “other launchers in the arsenal.”

“Why is that important? Because I can now deploy this launcher and that 360 degree capability quickly around the world. Three of those launchers, with a full load of eight missiles each, could fit on a C-17. That’s 24 [missiles]. Now just assume you had 10 C-17s and a hot spot was somewhere in the world where I needed to get firepower. That would equate to 240 missiles with launchers that could easily be deployed.”

Coyne observed that his briefing came just one year after the February 2011 decision in which the United States “made the decision not to provide the additional money necessary for a previous agreement [made in] 2008 – because of budget reasons. So, as a result, we had to re-plan the program to go back to the original funding ceiling of $3.4 billion through our contract. That resulted in a new program called Demonstration of Capabilities. That Demonstration of Capabilities is to conclude through funding in 2013 and result in demonstrating capabilities through three flight tests, the first of which I just talked to you about.”

The president’s FY13 budget proposal submitted on Feb. 13, 2012, included $400.9 million for the second year of the MEADS Demonstration of Capabilities phase.

“The next two flight tests are intercepts planned through this time period,” Coyne added. “The first intercept will be an air-breathing threat target and the next one will be a tactical ballistic missile. With those flight tests we will introduce our [360 degree] Fire Control Radar, which is currently going through final integration in Italy before it goes out to White Sands Missile Range.”

The Tri-National program featured all three countries and all three industrial partners playing key roles in system development. At the end of the contract all three countries will own the technical data package.

“What the three nations will do once this capability has been completed in this phase is to be determined,” Coyne noted. “Our job is to demonstrate the capability…I can tell you that for the United States Army and the Department of Defense they have ‘talked about’ the importance of ‘harvesting the technology.’ There is plenty of technology to harvest in the MEADS program. That 360 degree lightweight launcher is a perfect example. It’s in 2011 doing a flight test. We feel the same is also true for the radars. The radars will provide the U.S., Germany and Italy 360 degree tracking and cuing that currently is not available.”

Looking toward the near term future, he added that the MEADS team was “very encouraged” by recent comments expressed by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta during a press conference conducted with his counterpart from Germany.

“We are confident, although cautiously confident, that the [FY13 budget request] money will be appropriated this year at the end of the budget cycle on Capitol Hill,” he said.


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...