MEADS director: we're already there, where our competitors will arrive tomorrow
One of the most important programs in Polish armed forces technical modernization plan is to be launched soon - that will result in acquisition by the year 2022 of six mid-range air-and-missile defense batteries, codenamed Wisła. It is likely that up to four entities will respond to Poland's request: Raytheon with its Patriot system, MBDA with SAMP/T, the Israeli government with David's Sling and MEADS International, with the system named likewise. And it's the MEADS offer that we were able to discuss with the consortium's business development director Marty Coyne. We wanted to learn where the system is now, what are the plans for its future and what's in it for the Polish side.
Where is MEADS at the moment?
This year marks the last 12 months of MEADS system development program under the current contract agreement, ie. the pinnacle of a decade-long international cooperation. In a partnership worth 4 bln US dollars participated the United States (with a 2.5 bln US dollars contribution), Germany and Italy. Today, the research and development work has reached the 85% level, according to the company. Another test of the MEADS system is planned for July but already the consortium's partners can be proud of the widely quoted results of a test-firing from November 2013. Then, at the US White Sands range, two targets approaching from two different directions - imitating an air-target and a ballistic missile - were destroyed with use of the PAC-3 MSE (Missile Segment Enhancement) missiles. The July test, which will be conducted in Italy this time, is aimed at showing the open architecture of the system and its capabilities on European soil.
Italy is closest to acquiring the system, practically the decision has been already made, although it'll be announced formally when another partner decides likewise. Italian state alone would not be able to bear such a complicated program. Initially, Rome was interested in 1-2 MEADS fire units, ultimately up to 6 units. This another partner will most probably mean Germany, which due to elections consequences and personal changes within the defense ministry, have scheduled their decision for October 2014. In contrast to Italy, which is buying the system in its basic configuration, the Bundeswehr will use the MEADS environment but will configure it differently. The batteries will get additional IRIS-T SL air-defense systems, which is being developed as a national, German contribution to the MEADS program.
On 6th of November 2013 the MEADS system has demonstrated its capabilities. During a test-firing at the White Sands two targets were destroyed almost simultaneously (imitating an air-target and a ballistic missile) approaching from different directions. Image shows the test firing with a German-configuration launcher in front, while the PAC-3 missile shown on the image, was fired from the Italian launcher. Image: MEADS
The third partner, the United States, due to financial reasons have suspended the MEADS acquisition at the moment. In 2011 the budget expenditures have come under restrictive scrutiny and based on political decision the Pentagon's spending will be severely reduced in the coming years. In such environment it was difficult then to take a decision to acquire replacements for the 60 Patriot system batteries. What's important, the research and development on the MEADS have not been stopped and will be completed and financed according to plan. It is likely that the US Army will modernize its fielded systems using the MEADS elements, primarily the 360 degrees radars. But there is no interest in the US with the Next Generation Patriot system. An important signal for the Americans was the Turkish tender for a long-range air-defense system and a its recommendation for the Chinese offer. Additionally, the Turks have placed the Patriot on the third place, behind the French. There was a concern that the US industry will lose its importance on international markets as provider of advanced air-defense systems of the kind. What was realized was the out-dated philosophy of the Patriot. And a positive momentum for the MEADS getting more important were the successful firing tests.
So, the MEADS International is optimistic about the chances of introducing the system into serial production. This situation will practically see the Patriot's slow end, a good and recognized system, but one that was developed in different times, for different threats and requirements.
The future of MEADS
According to the consortium, they need a year to a year and a half to complete the research and development phase, conducting all the tests and bringing all the system's components to required standards. It will take another year to prepare for production and procure components required for the layout. MEADS International needs therefore an additional investor to complete all the work envisaged. Poland is closest to taking decision on acquiring a new, advanced air-defense system, hence a concrete offer for the country, but there will be more on that further on.
A little must be said about the chances for success. Apart from Germany and Italy - and perhaps also United States - acquisition of such armament-systems is planned in 15-20 countries around the world. In such case, exports can reach up to 300 MEADS air-defense systems. The completion of work, which - taking into account their progress and level of investment - is almost certain, is also a good chance for success on international markets, as the system currently has no competition to match its technological solutions. As the company's bosses stress: the MEADS today is where the competition will arrive tomorrow. Patriot and SAMP/Ts are in a way similar, they both will be modernized to get new capabilities, which will take years and is not risk-free, and the MEADS has already reached this level.
The MEADS has been developed as a system of open-architecture, high-mobility and half the operational cost of currently deployed systems. Much attention must be given to modernization potential and operation costs. Over two-three decades only 30% of expenditures is the systems development and acquisition, the remaining 70% is the operating cost of many years in service.
The interest in MEADS has been already expressed by Romania or Saudi Arabia, which is looking for replacement for its fielded Hawk systems. It has been sustained by Japan, that has turned its special attention towards the US-German-Italian system after its successful trials in November 2013. More NATO-countries (MEADS has been developed with them in mind) and Pacific region countries are on buyers list.
Partnership with Poland
Research and development of the MEADS is completed in 85%, which leaves room for contribution also for the Polish industry. It could join in the radar development (the surveillance and fire-control radars), software, launchers etc. MEADS would become a joint German-Italian-Polish program. A joint-venture, by which cost reduction per unit is available in each category: manufacturing and operation. Polish radiolocation units will be implemented to the system as well as operationally tested. But the most important element will be the missiles.
A permit has been obtained for component-production and assembly of the Lockheed PAC-3 CRI (Cost Reduction Initiative) missiles in our country. Apart from Japan, Poland would become the second place outside the US where such a process is taking place. The CRI missile has many common elements, like the seeker, with the newest PAC-3 MSE, but different motor. Why wasn't the latter offered for production in Poland? The reason is obtaining another permit by the US government in a lengthy procedure and the situation was that the newest PAC-3 was not introduced to mass production even in the US.
For the Wisła systems, Poland is free to buy both the PAC-3 MSE, PAC-3 CRI and - in response to Poland's and world's requirements, also a new MCM (Medium Range Air Defense Complement Missile) missile.
A 360 degrees azimuth radar, modern open architecture, advanced missiles and an investor urgently needed. In theory everything sounds as it should, including the export chances, as the competition is behind. In picture: the MEADS fire control radar. Image: MEADS
The MSE missiles, but also the CRI's, are costly and highly advanced missiles, for neutralizing the most dangerous targets, like ballistic missiles. It is therefore legitimate, to supplement the firing units with cheaper and more anti-aircraft than anti-ballistic missiles, just as did the Germans by developing the Iris-T. Here's the room for the "Polish" mid-range missile - the MCM. It will be also a unique one, above all it will have range similar to "costly" members of the PAC-3 family. The US government has already agreed to transfer the missile's seeker technology to the Mesko SA factory, which allows to assess that the Polish company would be responsible for 70% of workshare in the MCM project. That would allow for a generation-leap in the research and development potential of Poland's defense industry as the project leader. The estimated time required to develop the MCM missile is 4-5 years and it will be included in the MEADS offer. Considering the economics (3-4 MCM missiles for the pricetag of a single PAC-3 family missile) and the lack of missile of such range on the market, the customers are certain.
The MEADS International proposal regarding the new missile is related to make the offer more economically attractive (lower price for a firing unit) and the required need for placing a workshare in Poland. First assessments that the consortium has received from the Polish defense ministry, anticipated the costs of the program for 4 bln US dollars, deliveries in 2018-19 (first battery) and 2021-22 (final battery) and a 40% polonization level. That would be achieved by the MCM missiles. A similar solution was chosen by the rivaling Raytheon, which is offering production of PAC-2 GEM-T missiles and the cost-effective LCI (Low Cost Interceptor) missiles in the country. MEADS is stressing that it'll not change the basic fact that the Patriot does not have a 360 azimuth radar.
According to Marty Coyne, the MEADS offer is well balanced as far as the rationality of use of the solutions developed in the program and the Polish requirement of the Polish industry workshare are concerned. Spending 3 to 5 bln US dollars on the Wisla program - in 4-5 years from signing the contract - will provide Poland with the most advanced, operational air-defense system as well as with income - as a partner - from MEADS exports to other countries.
During the technical dialogue conducted by the Armament Inspectorate of the MoD in spring this year, a factual, well prepared approach of the Polish side was emphasized. The MEADS representatives were under impression of their competence, as they met with a well prepared team, asking concrete and detailed questions. Intense talks went for four days. An explicit progress was noticeable on the Polish side, that has received a lot of information on the offer for a year and being able now to use it, even if it's a new technology for the country.
The offer for Poland is treated by the consortium very seriously. Upon all the reasons mentioned above - as a potential buyer - we are important for achieving a production success by the program, but also Poland is the first place for MEADS vs Patriot rivalry in history. The consortium is aware of its rising profile in the tender and its representatives are moderately optimistic. The MEADS International is offering - as the only one - an Euro-American product, acquisition of which would both strengthen relations with the US as well as with neighboring Germany. It would do so in political, industrial and military sphere. It would enable industrial cooperation with Lockheed Martin, MBDA Deutschland and MBDA Italy. MEADS International is also conscious that it is offering a system of highest technological capabilities and - taking in account the way it has passed - one that is close to implementation.
Mariusz Cielma/Dziennik Zbrojny