We take issue with retired Maj . Gen. Francis Mahon’s view that Patriot should remain the foundational element of Army air and missile defense capability (“Envisioning the Army’s Air and Missile Defense,” Roll Call, Jan. 6, 2014). As it nears the end of its development program, Medium Extended Air Defense System has already demonstrated new capabilities Army leaders have sought since Operation Iraqi Freedom, and several basic fire units have been built. It’s appropriate to examine what has been gained, and what could be lost.
Developed to replace the aging Patriot air defense system, MEADS delivers capabilities that Army leaders prioritized as early as 2001 after fighting in Iraq. Then-Brig. Gen. Robert Lennox told a local paper, “What happened is [the enemy] fired a cruise missile at us from a completely different direction that came around the side. Cruise missiles can come around the side, hit you from behind. They come at low levels so you don’t see them until they’re up close.”
Because Patriot is limited to sector defense, the cruise missile threat made it vulnerable, and 360-degree coverage was needed. Patriot’s defense coverage lagged behind troop movements, so more overland mobility was needed. And Patriot required too much airlift, so smaller, lighter vehicles were needed.
Today, the same requirements appear in the Army’s Air and Missile Defense Strategic Plan, along with the capability to operate on an integrated air and missile defense network. Last year’s successful 360-degree dual-intercept test of the entire MEADS system demonstrated the improved AMD capabilities the Army has been seeking.
MEADS provides ability to detect, track and intercept multiple targets in several directions at the same time. As a result, MEADS systems provide eight times the defensive coverage of Patriot. MEADS also takes fewer personnel and aircraft, so it can deploy more quickly.
For example, the Army can now integrate MEADS plug-and-fight fire control and surveillance radars and launchers with future networks in any quantity, but with immediate increases in range, versatility and lethality. Integration could be completed in a matter of months because of farsighted MEADS design requirements. This approach provides the Army with near-term capability sets and places it on a path to incrementally and affordably modernize its air and missile defense capability to meet the threats of today and tomorrow.
Cost is also important. The MEADS program will be completed within the cost agreed to in 2004. In fact, the nine-year MEADS development program has actually cost the U.S. LESS than Patriot modification programs during the same period.
Funding from national partners Germany and Italy covered almost half of MEADS development costs and continues through 2014. More importantly, MEADS will address the largest cost associated with any system — operations and maintenance. Applying MEADS technologies can cut what the Army now pays to operate and maintain Patriot in half.