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MEADS Team Looks For New Radio To Anchor Plug-‘n’-Fight Architecture

By | September 11, 2006

      By Michael Sirak

      ORLANDO, Fla.–The international industry team designing the next-generation mobile air defense system for Germany, Italy and the United States must soon pick an alternative software-defined radio to underpin its connectivity since the radio of first choice is delayed, according to the consortium’s leader.

      “We are in discussions with the customer right now and we are hoping that the customer will provide guidance in the very near future with respect to that,” said Jim Cravens, president of MEADS International, Inc., the tri-national consortium building the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).

      Lockheed Martin [LMT], along with Germany’s Lenkflugkorpersysteme and MBDA Italia, makes up the joint venture. The NATO MEADS Management Agency (NAMEADSMA) oversees the program on behalf of the three governments.

      Cravens said the Boeing [BA]-built Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) was identified initially as the modern radio that would anchor the MEADS, which the three nations intend to field in the early to mid part of next decade. But with the delays that Boeing has experienced with the JTRS’s fielding timeline, the MEADS program is faced with choosing an alternative radio before the end of the year to avoid an impact to its schedule, he said.

      MEADS International is about two years into a 110-month, design and development phase that will conclude at the end of 2013. The consortium is working under a $3.4 billion contract. The next major programmatic milestone is a system-level preliminary design review slated for June 2007.

      “Because of the lead up to the preliminary design review and all of the things that we have to do with requirements and understanding how the communications device fits into all of this, we are going to need that very soon,” Cravens told Defense Daily during an interview earlier this month at the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control facility here.

      He declined to name the candidate radios, citing competitive sensitivities.

      The MEADS will replace U.S. Patriot, German Hawk, and Italian Nike Hercules air defense batteries. It consists of an X-band fire-control radar, UHF-band surveillance radar, battle management center and missile launcher. Each launcher will hold eight Lockheed Martin-built Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles.

      All of the system’s elements are designed to be readily transportable into a theater, including the ability easily to roll-on and roll-off a C-130 medium-sized cargo aircraft. Once deployed, the mobile system will be able to can keep pace with a combat maneuver force and provide 360-degrees of coverage, according to MEADS International.

      MEADS, which could also be used to protect population centers, is designed to knock down aircraft, cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles.

      “This system will take on all of those, said Cravens, “including next generation, maneuvering tactical ballistic missile with very difficult weapons of mass destruction flying on board and very low flying and very low radar-cross-section cruise missiles.”

      While a modern, software-defined radio may not have the glitz of an interceptor missile or radar, it will be a critical component of the MEADS.

      “MEADS is based upon the software-defined radio,” said Cravens. It will give MEADS elements the ability to connect easily with one another so that defenders can readily tailor the size of the air defense force based on the scenario, he said. This is called a plug-‘n’-fight capacity. As such, the MEADS will be easily scalable from its minimum configuration of one fire-control radar, one launcher and one operations center, plus power equipment, all the way up to a much larger battalion-sized force of many more elements, said Cravens.

      For planning purposes, the MEADS program defines a reference fire unit, which is much smaller than a battalion-sized force, as two tactical operations centers–the battle management component–along with two fire control radars, one surveillance radar, six launchers, each with eight missiles, and three sets of eight replenishment missiles for reloading expended launchers.

      Equally important, Cravens said, the plug-‘n’-fight capability will enable other air defense assets such as older Patriot batteries or elevated sensors to link to the MEADS and share data, or in some cases, be controlled by MEADS operators.

      “The plug-‘n’-fight really is a revolutionary concept from an engineering standpoint,” he said. “It allows us to recognize, incorporate and control an external asset. That does not exist today anywhere in air and missile defense.”

      The net effect, he noted, will be a single integrated picture of the airspace so that the defenders are able to engage threats more effectively and avoid inadvertently targeting friendly aircraft.

      While the radio decision is pending, last month there was another significant decision within the program. NAMEADSMA authorized MEADS International on Aug. 18 to incorporate the PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) interceptor as the baseline missile for the MEADS. Previously the PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative missile, which is already in service with the U.S. Army, was the baseline interceptor.

      The in-development PAC-3 MSE has a larger, more powerful motor than current Patriot missiles for added thrust, and larger fins and additional structural modifications for improved agility. They will enable it to handle more sophisticated threat missiles than current PAC-3s, according to Lockheed Martin.

      “Because it can fly higher in thinner air, and fly farther out, it gives us the ability to engage very demanding targets higher up with a greater probability of lethality,” said Cravens of the MSE. “You intercept [for example] weapons of mass destruction that are onboard a tactical ballistic missile so high that the lethal effects cannot reach the ground that you are trying to protect.”

      MEADS International has also submitted its proposal to the Army outlining how it would accelerate the battle management portion of the system so that it could be integrated sooner with existing Army Patriot units before the entire MEADS is ready for fielding, Cravens said.

      While the Army expects to have its first unit of the MEADS available for a contingency in the first quarter of FY’15, it would like to field the battle management element in FY’11 under phase two of its Patriot-MEADS Combined Aggregate Program (CAP).

      “The government and we are interested in seeing that come to a contract ideally near the end of this year, perhaps the November-December timeframe,” said Cravens. In order to meet the Army’s accelerated timeline, MEADS International would have to deliver the battle manager already in FY’09, he noted.

      Phase one of the CAP consists of improvements that Raytheon [RTN] is making today to the Patriot system. Phase two entails infusing elements of MEADS into Patriot. Phase three is the fielding of the complete MEADS.

      Cravens said the MEADS critical design review is planned for September 2009. A series of nine flight tests is anticipated to start in 2011 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and culminate in 2013.

      During the current design phase, the team is building, for test and integration purposes, four fire-control radars, three surveillance radars, seven battle management units, six launchers and three missile reloaders. It will use 28 PAC-3 missiles for test activities.

      To date, the MEADS work has progressed well, Cravens said.

      “We have met all of our milestones to date,” he said. “We have a 100 percent track record on contract deliverables to our customer, and we are focused on the preliminary design review because of its criticality and the importance of the program.”

      Further, he said, the multinational team has meshed into an impressive unit.

      “I believe, from my experience and the years that I have been leading organizations, both in the military and industry, that this is an organization that has great top talent, not only in engineers, but in business managers and others of that nature,” said Cravens. These officials, he continued, “understand the cultures of one another. We get along well. We speak frankly with one another…and manage through any [issues].”

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