MEADS Undergoes First Flight Test, Despite Funding Crunch

 - November 25, 2011, 9:00 AM
Lockheed Martin demonstrates the MSE development of the Patriot PAC-3 missile in an earlier test-firing. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin announced that the troubled, tri-national, medium extended air defense system (MEADS) underwent its first flight test, at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR)  on November 17.

The U.S., Germany and Italy agreed in 2004 to jointly develop MEADS as a replacement for Patriot, Hawk and Nike Hercules air defense systems. Lockheed Martin, LFK of Germany and MBDA Italia continue to work on the $3.4 billion development contract, but Germany recently joined the U.S. in deciding not to fund the production and deployment of MEADS. An American taxpayer watchdog group described the flight test as “nothing more than a dog-and-pony show to boost funding and keep [MEADS] off the chopping block.”

But Lockheed Martin said the test “demonstrated an unprecedented over-the-shoulder launch of the MSE [missile segment enhancement] missile against a simulated target attacking from behind.” The MSE is a Lockheed Martin development of the Raytheon Patriot PAC-3 that confers greater altitude, range and maneuverability by adding a second solid-rocket motor and larger control surfaces.

The other new developments in MEADS are a lightweight eight-missile, near-vertical launcher; a new multifunction radar; and a “plug-and-fight” digital, open-architecture, battle-management system. Lockheed Martin says that compared with the Patriot system, MEADS, with its 360-degree capability, defends “up to eight times the coverage area with far fewer system assets,” leading to much lower life-cycle costs.

Last week’s test was not the first for the MSE missile, which has already test flown twice at WSMR using a modified Patriot launcher.

Meanwhile, Raytheon is now producing the guidance-enhanced, missile-tactical (GEM-T) version of the PAC-3 Patriot, which it says extends the service life and improves the reliability of missile. But in a briefing last May, Marty Coyne, business development manager for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said that Patriot is “designed to defend fixed targets from one direction.” It is a 40-year-old design that is not digital, expensive to operate and has blind spots, he added.