Missile System Program Costs US Dearly

Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist whose convoluted contraptions for accomplishing simple tasks delighted generations of comic-strip readers passed away in 1970; but his ghost still roams the halls of the Pentagon. His guiding hand can be seen clearly in a project initiated in the mid-1990’s, known by its acronym MEADS (short for Medium Extended Air Defense System). MEADS was to replace the PATRIOT anti-missile system which is in need of modernization.

If ever there was a textbook example of how the government should not develop a program, MEADS would be the poster child. Like the never-ending lawsuit described by Charles Dickens in “Bleak House,” Jarndyce v. Jarndyce,  MEADS has continued inexplicably to drain US taxpayer resources for a decade and a half. However, thanks to recent adverse publicity and some unusually pointed questioning by freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), taxpayers may soon finally be rid of this white elephant.

MEADs has been plagued with problems from the start. First of all, the program was to be managed not by the US or any one country, but by a committee — NATO.   As anyone familiar with government knows, if you want a program mismanaged, give it to a committee. The program was agreed to between the US, Germany and Italy; with Uncle Sam responsible for the lion’s share of all costs, in order to foster good will and cooperation.

While the MEADS agreement between Washington, Berlin, and Rome is structured as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and remains confidential, there has been sufficient detail about it disclosed publicly to show why it is an exercise in how not to draft a contract.

The MOU is so fuzzy, for example, that in congressional testimony March 29th, Frank Kendall, a senior Defense Department acquisitions expert, was forced to admit in response to questioning by Sen. Brown, that he did not know “who signed up to the deal.” Kendall also admitted the MOU made it deliberately difficult for the US to back out of the program if it didn’t work or became too expensive. Another Pentagon witness at the Senate hearing had to admit the MEADS agreement was indeed, “pretty unusual”; so unusual, he could not recall another like it.

If there is in fact not another international agreement like MEADS, that is good news for American taxpayers; because this one is proving outrageously costly and unproductive.

The figures truly are distressing. The program is a decade behind its original schedule. It already has cost US taxpayers over $1.5 billion, and has not even completed the initial, design and development (D&D) phase. Pentagon officials cannot with any degree of confidence predict that the system, even if developed and deployed, would ever meet its planned capabilities. Despite all this, our government dithers about whether it should – or even could — terminate the program and at least cut the loss to the American taxpayers.

For one thing, Defense Department officials seem to believe that under terms of the MOU, if the US were to withdraw from the program, this could subject us to as much as an additional $804 million in obligations to our two allies. This is highly questionable, but the department’s logic seems to be that we might as well continue the program through the D&D phase, since we might have to pay for it anyway.

Even standard termination penalties our government would likely have to pay Lockheed-Martin, the prime contractor, if the government were to pull the plug, would be substantially less than any monies demanded by Italy and Germany.

So, what’s the delay?  Can the program now.  Cut our losses.  Let our “friends” sue us if they care to.  And – most important – charge Sen. Brown with ensuring that never again should the US military enter into an agreement commiting our country to such a lousy, one-sided contract.

-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code

20 comments Add your comment

Joel Edge

April 25th, 2011
7:08 am

What doesn’t wind up costing us these days? The size of the federal government has gotten to the point where, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t determine where all of the money is going. Slash and burn is getting to be the only option. Cut the funds and see who squeals. Not a good plan, but we may be there already.

Gerald West

April 25th, 2011
7:19 am

Bob, you’re right to criticize the NATO spending program, MEADS, but wrong to limit your criticism to international projects. The US military continues to squander trillions of dollars on cold-war weapons programs: $9 billion on a single aircraft carrier, $1-3 Billion for a single B-2 bomber, one-third billion for each F22 or F35. These programs are exempt from spending cuts in the GOP-Ryan “deficit reduction plan”.

We have no state enemies armed with sophisticated weapons. The devastating attack on our homeland was carried out by a dozen or so young men in jeans and sneakers, armed with box cutters. Abroad, the terrorist groups we struggle with are armed with ancient AK-47s and some primitive explosives, and rely on used Datsun and Toyota mini-pickup trucks for transport.

For the cost of a single aircraft carrier, we could have resolved the housing bust by buying out and refinancing all existing mortgages. For the cost of a single advanced fighter, we could have made up the difference in the recent Republican/Democrat spat over the budget extension.

Stan Kelley

April 25th, 2011
7:54 am

Let us not forget the anti-missile system which is a system that will not work deployed against a threat that does not exist.


April 25th, 2011
8:03 am

The Military-Industrial-Complex will insure that programs like this continue into the foreseeable future. It would require a tremendous amount of bi-partasian effort to take away their powers and, obviously, that is not going to happen.


April 25th, 2011
9:10 am

Yes folks…we need to raise taxes on the rich so we can pay for great programs like this. Give us more of your money so your government can spend it wisely.


April 25th, 2011
9:56 am

“The Military-Industrial-Complex will insure that programs like this continue into the foreseeable future. It would require a tremendous amount of bi-partasian effort to take away their powers and, obviously, that is not going to happen.”

There you have it folks…we have all been enlightened by this brilliant observation. Nothing more needs to be said on the subject as it has all been summed up, analyzed and put to bed by the genius of Carlos. Hail to thee


April 25th, 2011
10:51 am


Honesty forces me, once again, to bow to your greatness and admit that without your superb guidance, my brilliant obversations would never happen.


April 25th, 2011
11:11 am

Soon you will be ready Grasshopper


April 25th, 2011
11:28 am


Gosh, you really think so?

MEADS…Missile to Nowhere? «

April 25th, 2011
11:39 am

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Ronnie Bonzo Reagun

April 25th, 2011
2:13 pm

Well……there you go again…..
I like to call it Star Wars..
Now, I’ll trade ya a stinger for a duffel bag of coke.

markie mark

April 25th, 2011
2:27 pm

hey Ronnie Bonzo….while you are busy being snide, the real testing goes on…..

Article date – April 14th, 2011

New weapon technology is emerging as a US Navy laser test proves successful. This new form of naval technology has been approached, but success has been unheard of until this test. Now that laser weapons have become a reality, it is fair to wonder what the benefits of this technology might be.

According to the Associated Press, the US Navy recently tested a solid-state high-energy laser from a Navy ship. For the first time, the test went according to plan, and the laser set the other ship on fire. This new technology has several applications, and the specific application of the weapon has yet to be announced.

Ronnie Bonzo Reagun

April 25th, 2011
2:30 pm

That’s great news markie. Now we can team up with Mothra and RULE THE EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!Muhahahhahaahahah.

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the watch dog

April 25th, 2011
4:51 pm

We have to get back to the sheriff and the $90,000 Dodge Viper. If you were to serialize corruption this column would be hottttttt.

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April 26th, 2011
4:46 pm

1.5 billion ??? Hahahaha

We spent 550 billion in 72 hours bombing Libya and Gaddafi is still in power, so whatever the purpose of that was failed.

1.5 billion is literally like me spending a penny over a 10 year peroid.

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