There is quite a bit of talk about getting rid of Defense sequestration (automatic spending cuts) that was voted on by Congress and signed by the President last year as part of the agreement to raise the debt ceiling. In truth, sequestration is a lazy way to cut spending. What Congress needs to do is cut Defense spending and cut it wisely. One program that should be eliminated immediately is the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The House Appropriations Committee has zeroed out MEADS’ funding, and the National Defense Authorization Act in both the Senate and the House struck additional funding for it as well. Now is the time for the Senate Appropriations Committee to eliminate funding.
MEADS has rightly earned the moniker the "Missile to Nowhere." Because of the prohibitive cost ($2 billion over budget), schedule delays (10 years behind schedule) and the system's poor performance, the U.S. Army has said it doesn't want MEADS and that it would never use the missiles.
But rather than eliminating the program, the Senate this week revived the troubled MEADS program that was previously on life support. Despite the fact that three important congressional committees have already axed funding for MEADS this year, the Senate is moving forward with a $400 million earmark.
Proponents of MEADS have deluded themselves into thinking the program is beneficial to our nation and performing well, on time, on budget and saving taxpayer money to boot. All of those assertions are false.
The first assertion — the development of MEADS is running right on schedule — is easy to debunk. If “right on schedule” means at the very least 10 years behind schedule, then yes, MEADS is on time. And thanks to its significant time delays, its so-called cutting-edge technology is about 20 years behind too. But MEADS’ slow progression is only one of the problems plaguing this program.
In 1996, the federal government expected MEADS to cost between $2 and $3 billion. The program’s current cost estimates are now as much as eight times that amount, roughly $19 billion, should the program be allowed to go forward.
And while many are aware of MEADS’ shortcomings, they still try to defend its continued funding by claiming that the project’s termination costs will actually make a bigger dent on taxpayers’ wallets than keeping the project on its current course. This contention also fails to mesh with reality. A Pentagon report explains that ending MEADS would actually save taxpayers money because the program is subject to authorization and appropriation. If Congress doesn’t agree to spend the money, there are no termination costs.
Worse yet, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded last year that there were a host of design maturity and performance issues confronting MEADS. The GAO concluded, “The MEADS program is at risk of not meeting several technical performance measures, including assembly, disassembly, and emplacement times, especially in extreme temperatures. … The MEADS program faces other transportability challenges as well because the vehicles used to move the system do not meet all NATO road requirements.” In sum, the NATO-managed program does not even meet NATO requirements. Even the testing of MEADS has been a head-scratcher. The system’s first “test” last November consisted of firing a missile at nothing in particular — just out into the air. Despite aiming at no particular target, MEADS officials declared the “test” a success. Sadly, the American people paid for this public relations stunt.
In addition to saving money, the elimination of MEADS would allow the Department of Defense to focus on a missile program that actually has a long history of performing well, the Patriot Missile Program — ironically the missile program MEADS was supposed to replace.
Eliminating MEADS is just one of many recommendations that Congress can pursue to cut Defense spending without sequestration.