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Germany

MEADS Defense System in the Firing Line

Ahead of a parliamentary budget committee meeting next week, members of the Green party are refusing a costly project which would make German participation in the air defense air system MEADS irreversible.

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Military necessity or relations booster?

German companies and Social Democratic Defense Minister Peter Struck view MEADS as being strategically important, as it would be the only NATO-commissioned defense project carried out jointly by the United States and European nations, notably Germany and Italy.

According to NATO, the medium extended air defense system would replace current Hawk and Patriot interceptors. The initiators of MEADS credit it with the ability to protect forces and fixed installations against attacks by current and next-generation tactical ballistic missiles. It’s been promised that MEADS as a surface-to-air system will have greater firepower and require less manpower than its predecessors.

But do we need it?

But whether a new system is required at all for such a specific purpose remains a highly contested question among German parliamentarians.

MEADS started as a think-tank project between the US, Italy and Germany. The system is meant to be fully operational by 2012, with the US to provide 58 percent, Germany 25 percent and Italy 17 percent of the financing,

The companies involved -- Lockheed Martin, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and MBDA Italy -- sense a lucrative business opportunity. But German Greens parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele said the plan is more about politics than about being a military necessity.

Christian Ströbele in Hannover

Hans-Christian Ströbele

“I have the impression that the military use of the system is no longer at the heart of those who are pushing MEADS here," Ströbele (photo) said. "This goes for both the development of the system and the ensuing purchase of MEADS launchers by Germany. It seems it’s rather a question of not spoiling transatlantic relations again after the Iraq war and putting NATO in an awkward position.”

Waiting on Germany

Defense Minister Struck has been unable to drum up unanimous support for the project, which he aims to push through during a meeting of the parliamentary budget committee on March 16. The US and Italy have already signed the MEADS contract and have been waiting for Germany to follow suit.

Greens MPs fear that the cost of the project will cause the meager national defense budget to burst at its seams. But Hans-Peter Bartels, a Social Democratic defense expert, argues that the cost will be offset by the opportunities that MEADS offers to German industry.

“Germany is supposed to play a major role in the development of the radar system for MEADS," Bartels said. "German industry stands to profit considerably from its participation in the project. The expertise it already has and will gain in this field will no doubt come in handy in similar or follow-up projects.”

EADS managers argue that the government in Berlin cannot afford to opt out of the project. Spokesman Alexander Reinhardt estimated that at least 450 jobs are at stake. In the end, the Greens, as the government's junior coalition partner may not be prepared to thwart the project altogether. But they could insist that Germany order fewer than the 12 to 24 MEADS units planned by the defense minister.

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