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THAAD offers a capability to defeat medium and short range ballistic missiles, with a greater defended area than Patriot, and in the altitude band between Aegis’ mid-course and PATRIOT’s lower engagement altitude. The first THAAD battery is deployed to Guam and Combatant Commanders are calling for more systems. It too can interface with IBCS to enhance operations.
What the Army should not be investing in is just as clear - the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a system originally conceived to replace PATRIOT. Let us not be confused or diverted by the recent MEADS dual target engagement demonstration. While interesting, so was the 1996 simultaneous engagement of a LANCE and two drones by a U.S. Marine Corps HAWK battery. The Army noted that demonstration but did not stop HAWK’s inactivation and the Marines eventually followed suit. Instead the Army invested in the Patriot Advanced Capabilities program.
The MEADS demonstration was not a graduation exercise, so many more tests must be funded before MEADS would be ready for production. Its development has been costly and it presents an unaffordable procurement, not to mention the large doctrinal, institutional, and logistical risks. It is simply unconscionable to borrow dollars from near-term, low-risk investments, and other capabilities for MEADS. Fortunately Congress in the current version of the authorization act is on target by explicitly restricting any diversion of funds to MEADS.
Air and missile defense has been and will continue to be strategically vital. The Army has focused investments and needs Congress’ support. For the future, additional funds should flow to IBCS, PATRIOT, and THAAD. These systems are the most prudent, low-risk investments; they will deliver valuable capabilities near-term, not in the nebulous, distant future. Today, we have neither the time nor the fiscal capacity to invest in the interesting.
Retired Maj. Gen. Francis Mahon is a former Commanding General in the Army Air and Missile Defense Command, and a former Director of Test in the Missile Defense Agency.