MEADS: Despite Senator’s Challenge, ‘Missile to Nowhere’ Lives On

Officially it’s called the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS)—but given its performance record, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) argues it should be called “the missile to nowhere.”

The MEADS program, a missile defense system conceived in 1995, is the quintessential Pentagon program that lives on indefinitely, despite the fact that it will never see the field of battle.

Recognizing this reality, Ayotte pushed for a budget amendment to reduce funding for MEADS, and to reprogram those funds to Dept. of Defense (DOD) operations and maintenance.

The MEADS program has been plagued by billions of dollars in cost overruns and persistent performance failures, and is a decade behind schedule. Yet it continues to receive millions of dollars in funding each year. Ayotte’s amendment would have canceled $381 million in spending on MEADS and allowed DOD to shift that funding toward other operations.

[MORE: Case Study #5 | A 'Missing Defense System': MEADS Needs to Go]

Given that the Pentagon is struggling with the harsh reality of budget cuts under sequestration, this sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, when it comes to Washington budget politics, you learn not to count on common sense: Ayotte’s amendment was blocked this week.

In response, here’s what she told the Manchester (N.H.) Union-Leader:

“It makes no sense to spend hundreds of millions more on a defense program that the Pentagon will never use. It’s time to turn off the spigot on this ‘Missile to Nowhere,’ which has already cost taxpayers billions and will never see the light of day,” Ayotte said in a release Tuesday. “We can’t afford to spend money on unnecessary programs that will never be delivered to our troops, especially as the Defense Department absorbs disproportionate sequestration cuts. My amendment would strike funding for this wasteful missile system and ensure that those funds are used instead to support our warfighters and improve military readiness.”

Ayotte said, “This is a test for the Senate. If we can’t eliminate funding for a system that the Pentagon will never use, how will we ever be able to tackle the bigger drivers of our deficits and debt?”

The survival of the MEADS program is just the latest evidence that, when it comes to budget politics in D.C., pet projects and local priorities too often trump common sense.

It’s important to note that Ayotte went to the Senate floor 4 times in 2 days to try and kill it.  She didn’t try once and quit—she showed the kind of persistence and determination we wish more members would show.

With a $16.7 trillion national debt and years of projected budget deficits ahead, we have to tip our hat to Sen. Ayotte for standing up for fiscal responsibility. What’s it going to take to get the rest of Congress and the Obama administration to do the same?

Talmadge Coley is a policy analyst for Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the United States Air Force.