Despite sequestration, Congress is currently spending $380 million on a missile program that is being developed with Germany and Italy and is under contract with Lockheed Martin. The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), according to the primary developer’s website, “will be able to destroy all incoming tactical or medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles or aircraft as well as weapons of mass destruction. It provides vastly greater firepower, combat-proven hit-to-kill technology, 360-degree radar coverage and a plug-and-fight battle management network architecture.”
The program has a few problems, though. First of all, the military doesn’t want it. According to the MEADS Fact Sheet, issued from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the United States cannot afford to pay to implement and deploy MEADS — which is still in development and is not ready for battlefield use — and maintain the existing Patriot missile system. Since MEADS was introduced in the mid-1990s, the program has faced serious technical, management, schedule and cost problems and has been unable to “meet schedule and cost targets.”
According to Citizens Against Government Waste, “The proposed cost for the design and development phases of MEADS was $3.4 billion. Although the United States has already spent $1.9 billion on the initial design and development phase, the program still requires an additional $2.8 billion just to complete this stage of the project.”
“Because of extensive problems with cost overruns and delays, in February 2011 the U.S. had nixed plans to continue the final development and procurement phases, choosing instead to fund a “proof of concept” through fiscal year (FY) 2013 after which funding for MEADS would cease,” Citizens Against Government Waste continued. “This level of commitment intended to allow the partners to harvest technology from the program. The FY 2012 DOD Appropriations Act supplied $390 million for MEADS, $16.6 million below the administration’s request. The FY 2013 DOD budget request included $400.9 million for the program.”
Last week, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) pushed through a bill that would cut funding to the MEADS program — $205 million of the now-zeroed $380 million MEADS budget would go to military operation accounts to offset sequestration cuts.
“This is a weapons system that the Pentagon won’t use and Congress doesn’t want to fund. We shouldn’t waste any more money on a ‘missile to nowhere’ that will never reach the battlefield,” Ayotte said. “Every dollar we spend on a wasteful program is a dollar we don’t have to ensure our service members have everything they need to protect themselves and accomplish their missions.”
The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support — 94 to 5.
Shortly after Ayotte’s bill was passed, Congress issued a stop-gap measure that would allow Lockheed Martin to continue the current year of development for the MEADS program. Issued as part of the continuing resolution that would avoid the government shutdown that was impending at the end of the month. The continuing resolution will keep the government funded until the close of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Germany and Italy have contributed 42 percent of a combined $4 billion on the MEADS program and have warned Congress that cutting funding to the program would cause diplomacy problems between the nations. Germany and Italy indicated to Congress that backing out of the program would trigger steep termination fees. The termination fees are slightly less than the $380 million that was already allocated to the program for 2013.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip in the Senate, stated that, “I share the frustration of many of my colleagues that we have spent so much money and so many years and have reached this point. The cost to finish the development of this program is almost exactly the same as the cost to unilaterally terminate it, a point not made by the senator from New Hampshire.”
Lockheed Martin actively lobbied the House appropriators to place legislation in the continuing resolution that would continue funding. Lockheed intends on conducting a fourth quarter 2013 flight test to see if the system can intercept a ballistic missile and plans to continue the program with Italy and Germany after the United States withdraws.
Continuing funding of the MEADS program is prohibited under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In frustration, Ayotte is blocking the nomination of Alan Estevez to principal deputy undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics until Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale and Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor explain why this “oversight” is allowed to continue.
One of the key reasons lies with where the components for MEADS are being fabricated. Key systems for the MEADS program are being designed and fabricated at the Lockheed Martin facility at Salina, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has aggressively fought to block attempts to block appropriations to MEADS. “Ayotte kept trying to get her amendment on the floor, but we blocked it each time,” Schumer said in an interview with The Syracuse Post Standard.
The Salina plant is fabricating the radar array for MEADS and currently employs 235 people. The Army will probably salvage the component for future systems. Ayotte has her ulterior motives, too. Raytheon, the manufacturer of the Patriot system, is based in Andover, Mass. Most of Raytheon’s workforce commute from New Hampshire.
The importance of proper funding
This is contrasted by the furor that came from the conservative sphere in regard to a $384,000 National Science Foundation-funded (NSF) study into duck genitalia. A tweet from CNSNews.com read “Please RT —> Gov spends $384K to study duck genitalia, cancels White House tours #sequesterhttp://ow.ly/jfgKa 1:46 PM — 20 Mar 13.“ Conservative media have been in a stir about this issue, in light of sequestration and have accused the Obama administration of wasteful spending.
This is despite the fact that the study was funded six years ago under George W. Bush.
While it can be argued that studying ducks’ sexual organs is weird, the notion of the government paying for such research is nothing of the sort.
In 2011 and 2012, almost all of the government’s research agencies — NSF, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — were put on the chopping block for budget cuts. NASA had to postpone its space launches. The NSF had to rollback on its research grants. NIH had to cancel many critical drug trials. Climate change research at NOAA was closed down.
As reported by Nature, “Such an outcome would be catastrophic … the automatic cut would slash funding for science agencies by 11 percent, starting in 2013. For the Department of Energy’s $5-billion Office of Science, even shutting down a national laboratory —- for example Fermilab, the particle-physics laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, with its $300-million annual budget — would achieve only part of the mandated savings. Granting agencies such as the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) would have to lower their grant-acceptance rates to single digits.”
NSF and NIH have sponsored research that have led to 310 Nobel prizes. The world’s understanding of space comes from NASA. Tornadoes and major storms can be predicted several days before they happen because of NOAA.
While fighting to keep unneeded and unwanted military programs may seem productive to some legislators, the loss of scientific progress threatens the nation’s livelihood. Inventions that are essential to everyday life — the Internet, unleaded gasoline, almost every vaccine and surgical procedure, the computer, the microwave, etc. — came because of federal government investment into their development.