Panetta worried over Italian, German deals

Panetta worried over Italian, German deals

Panetta worried over Italian, German deals

‘I believe that it is important to live up to our commitments to our allies,’ Panetta says regarding the funding of a ground-based defense program with Italy and Germany. AFP photo

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his top weapons buyer warned lawmakers that failure to fund the final year of development work on a joint ground-based missile defense program with Italy and Germany could have serious diplomatic and financial consequences.

Panetta urged Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee, to support $400.9 million in a final year of funding for the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System (MEADS) built by Lockheed Martin Corp and its partners in Italy and Germany. Three other committees have already blocked funding for the program, which is jointly financed by the United States, Italy and Germany, although their moves have drawn a veto threat by the White House.

MEADS was intended to replace the U.S. Army’s aging Patriot air and missile defense system, and has been in development for over a decade at a combined cost of over $4 billion. Washington announced last year that it would stop funding the program after fiscal 2013, calling it unaffordable in the current budget climate. Panetta told Inouye in a letter dated June 26 that completing development of the MEADS program would allow all three countries to benefit from their collective investment, while a U.S. pullout would be “viewed by our allies as reneging on our promises.”

Frank Kendall, defense undersecretary for acquisition, said the move would also prompt Germany and Italy to buy European-built alternatives to upgrade their air and missile defense systems, and could undermine U.S. efforts to argue for more defense cooperation and burden-sharing.

Panetta said congressional failure to fund MEADS would also diminish a major breakthrough reached on missile defense at the NATO summit in Chicago in May, where NATO countries said they had reached “interim capability” on ballistic missile defense as an initial step towards establishing a NATO missile defense system. “The United States relies on allies to share the burden of peacekeeping and defense in coalition activities,” Panetta said. “In this context, I believe that it is important to live up to our commitments to our allies.” Earlier this month, German and Italian officials warned U.S. lawmakers that their plans to cut off funding for the MEADS program would endanger U.S. ties with their countries.

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