The U.S. plans to stop funding a missile defense system made by Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lawmakers agreed to prohibit using any funds for the so-called Medium Extended Air Defense System, known in military parlance as MEADS, as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
The legislation, which sets military policy and spending targets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1., was signed into law Thursday by President Barack Obama while he was vacationing in Hawaii.
The final version of the bill notably didn't include language supported by the Republican-led House of Representatives instructing the Army to look for opportunities to use the technology in other systems.
The move is a loss for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, the world's largest defense contractor that, in recent weeks, defended the program from critics and led an advertising blitz to highlight its performance during a live-fire exercise at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
Built by Lockheed, MEADS was designed to replace the Patriot missile defense system made by Raytheon Co., the world’s largest missile producer. MEADS incorporates a truck-mounted Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, missile battery, with a suite of sensors and communications centers. It also features a 360-degree radar, which the Patriot system lacks.
The U.S., Germany and Italy have spent about $3 billion on the program, which some lawmakers have called a "missile to nowhere" because the military doesn't plan to continue development to full production. Most of the funding for the effort came from the U.S.
In a recent op-ed to Military.com, Dean Popps, the former Army acquisition executive and acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition logistics and technology during both the Bush and Obama administrations, criticized the program as "an expensive, experimental, unproven burden to the U.S.. pocketbook that sits on the shelf, and — with each passing and expensive year — becomes less and less likely to ever be fielded or used."
In a response, Dave Berganani, president of MEADS International, argued that the Patriot is aging and can't meet the Army's own requirements, and he defended MEADS as "networked, highly mobile, light enough to airlift, with advanced radars and launchers than can defend troops and civilians on all sides, not just in front."
It's unclear how NATO allies will respond. The German and Italian defense ministers have said the program must be part of any European missile-defense architecture.