By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON Nov 6 The MEADS missile defense
system developed by the United States, Italy and Germany
intercepted and destroyed two targets simultaneously in a final
test on Wednesday before Washington pulls out of the program,
Lockheed Martin Corp said.
Lockheed, which plans to keep working on the project with
Germany and Italy, said the test showed the Medium Extended Air
Defense System (MEADS) can provide 360-degree protection against
air and ballistic missile threats.
MEADS was developed by a joint venture of Lockheed and the
Italian-German group MBDA. In Wednesday's test at White Sands
Missile Range in New Mexico, MEADS destroyed two targets
launched from opposite directions at the same time: a QF-4
air-breathing drone coming from the south, and a Lance missile
that was flying a ballistic missile trajectory from the north.
"No fielded ground-mobile air and missile defense can
intercept targets from two directions at the same time, as MEADS
did today," said Gregory Kee, who manages the program for the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
He said the system can intercept "multiple targets," more
than the two it destroyed on Wednesday. He could not give the
exact number since it was classified.
"MEADS has eight times the capability of some of the
existing systems today," he added.
The United States, Italy and Germany spent about $3.4
billion to develop MEADS over the past decade as a successor to
the Patriot missile defense system. Washington decided last year
to withdraw after the development program, citing budget cuts.
Poland is considering joining the program, and sent
officials to observe the test conducted jointly by the United
States, Germany and Italy, the company said.
Raytheon Co is the prime contractor for the Patriot
system, which uses PAC-3 missiles made by Lockheed, and has
continued to generate large international orders.
Lockheed says MEADS offers broader protection against
missile attacks than the older Patriot system, and is cheaper
and easier to transport. Officials also say MEADS is the only
system that offers 360-degree coverage.
Raytheon officials say the Patriot system, which first
entered the U.S. Army's inventory in 1982, has been heavily
modernized, with large foreign orders helping fund new digital
processors, touch panel screens and portable trainers.
Critics of MEADS say it has not been tested in combat, while
the Patriot system has demonstrated it can fire the PAC-3
Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles developed for MEADS.
The Pentagon put a final $310 million in funding into the
MEADS program in fiscal 2013 to pay for the last test and bring
the developmental program to a close.
Kee said Wednesday's test had proven the maturity of the
technologies in the MEADS progam and would allow all three
countries to use it. He said the program had already
demonstrated its ability to integrate with NATO weapons systems,
and further demonstrations were planned over the coming year
before the development program ends next autumn.
The Pentagon has said it plans to "harvest" technologies
from the MEADS system for other missile defense efforts, but
details have not been released.
Kee said the U.S. Army concluded in an interim report that
the MEADS program had "very mature hardware and software."
MEADS said Polish officials also observed Wednesday's test
as they move to launch a competition valued at $3 billion to $5
billion in January for a new air and missile defense system.
Marty Coyne, business development director for Lockheed's
air and missile defense business, said MEADS would be a "perfect
fit" for Poland since it was looking for significant
participation by its own companies, and it wanted 360-degree
coverage, which is not offered by any other company.
He said Poland expected to start a formal acquisition
process in January, with a contract award likely by the end of
2014. The timing would work well for MEADS, since the
development program will just be ending at that point, he said.