After last week, it’s tough to accuse the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) missile of “failure to launch” in the technical sense. Too bad it’s long failed at fiscal responsibility.
In a town known for creating supreme ironies, last Wednesday’s successful test of MEADS at the White Sands Missile Range was among the “supreme-est”. Hailed by its prime contractor as the “culmination of three countries working together” (the U.S., Germany, and Italy), the, ahem, upshot of the test for the Pentagon will be … well, nothing. That’s because the U.S. decided not to procure MEADS for operation in the field.
Having fallen a good ten years behind schedule and far over-budget, MEADS was already looked like a flightless bird to taxpayers, but its lack of military utility also called for its grounding. In a joint 2011 study released with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, NTU advocated ending MEADS because at the time our allies had no “plans to purchase the system when finished and the Patriot system can be expanded and improved to provide similar capabilities to MEADS.” Unfortunately, Congress kept stringing the program along, most recently through a $380 million earmark in the Continuing Resolution passed in March of 2013 intended to complete its operational testing phase and allow the U.S. to fulfill its putative obligations to its international partners. But that was to be our final taxpayer-funded journey for the “missile to nowhere.”
Many say the plug could, and should, have been pulled earlier. In a 2011 letter to then-Defense Secretary Gates, NTU argued that, “Whatever controversy there may be over the maturity or viability of MEADS, it is clear that U.S. taxpayers will gain little from a further government expenditure.” The Pentagon’s reply to our letter argued that the fees for terminating MEADS that the U.S. would have to pay to its two allies (Germany and Italy) were not worth the savings of backing out at that point.
Yet, our resourceful colleagues at Citizens Against Government Waste found a smoking gun, or perhaps more appropriately, smoking rocket motor (HT to CAGW’s clever website, misguidedmissile.org). In a statement released right after the White Sands test, CAGW noted:
"For several years, DOD officials stated that cancelling the program was prohibitive without agreement from Germany and Italy because of high unilateral termination costs. However, a confidential DOD report to Congress obtained by CAGW concluded that the U.S. could withdraw from the contract without committing additional money or paying termination fees."
Oops. So taxpayers may very well have had a quicker way out of this mess after all.
In the we-couldn’t-have-said-it-better category, we’ll give the final word to our good friend Tom Schatz, President of CAGW, who noted:
"Taxpayers are all too familiar with DOD boondoggles that receive funding long after they are proven wasteful, and [the] duplicative test of the costly and unsuccessful MEADS program is unfortunately a perfect example. Given the DOD’s sequester cuts, and the fact that neither President Obama nor Members of Congress requested funding for the program in FY 2014, the test was a waste of federal funds that should have been allotted to fund ongoing and necessary DOD programs."
Here’s hoping that after this episode of throwing good money after bad, MEADS just keeps “on going” … away from our wallets.