MEADS/TLVS alternatives

MEADS was a joint German-U.S. area air defence and ballistic missile defence system development program. It seemed like a racket to me almost from the beginning. The quantities planned for purchase by Germany were so small that participation in  a major development program was fiscally irresponsible from the start, and had a terrible smell of industry subsidizing.

MEADS made use of existing Patriot missile designs, but added new radar and control systems to cure the great weakness of Patriot; the inability to defend 360°. The limited field of view of Patriot's radar equipment made a cluster of 3-4 Patriot units necessary for 360° protection, and then there was still a need for short range air defences to close gaps caused by hills (Patriot uses semi active radar terminal homing and cannot engage without line of sight).

Germany insisted (even more smell of industry subsidy here) on a backup missile, the IRIS-T SL. This was a modified infrared guided missile as known from Typhoon fighters. A nose cone to protect the infrared seeker against heating up was added. This was apparently beneficial for exploiting the rocket engine's range potential in the dense air at low altitudes. The addition of a missile with a different guidance and independent from the illumination radars makes some sense. No single soft kill countermeasure will be able to address the different missiles (unless it defeats the radar proximity fuzes) and IRIS-T SL greatly increases the demands for saturation. 

The Americans had little interest in IRIS-T SL (their air force uses AIM-9X anyway, and the latest AIM-9X block finally has an improved range rocket engine to come close to IRIS-T). They also had little interest in MEADS and don't want to buy it any more.

Germany goes on seeking an area air and missile defence system, and this "TLVS" may still be bought. There are very strong expectations of further cost increases, we may end up paying many billions of Euros (more than five billions for purchasing alone, in addition to development) for this.

I'll lay out some alternatives to this nonsense, but first some context:

(I) MEADS/TLVS is an air defence system for the "rear" area, similar to the line of area air defence batteries that NATO maintained from the south of German to its north during the Cold War. It's not meant to be deployed as a line, but it is a Luftwaffe (air force) program, and this shows. It would probably protect rear area bridges, supply hubs, headquarters, airbases and the like - not a Panzerbrigade on a raid between or behind hostile brigades. Our air defences for the latter practically no more than machineguns, IFV autocannons and some old Stinger missiles which are likely well past their nominal shelf life.
We do need air defences for army brigades, though. That far "forward" we cannot trust fighter support, even if we could for the "rear" areas. Systems like Stinger or 30 mm guns have an effective ceiling so low that air attack from 15,000 ft would be safe. This means hostile air power could - protected against our fighters by its own area air defence systems - bomb our ground forces at will. The old Gepard and Roland systems wouldn't have changed that if they were still in service. 

(II) Unlike France and Italy we do not pursue a common area air defence missile for land and naval use. (Our navy uses SM-2, old Sea Sparrows and in the future maybe ESSM Block II).

(III) Semi-active radar homing is an inferior guidance method compared to active radar homing, but it's ceteris paribus somewhat cheaper. It is restricted to line of sight and the illumination radar needs to be active during the terminal engagement phase; it cannot be shut down to protect it against anti-radar missiles or else the engagement would fail for sure.

(IV) Area air defence missiles may have probabilities of kill of around 0.8...0.9 in peacetime brochures, but this may be as low as 0.01...0.1 under wartime conditions. Any solution which makes large stocks of missiles unaffordable is thus a bad solution, for among the missiles one should consider the costs grow quicker than the probability of kill does. A gold plated missile may cost five times as much as a simpler one, but it wouldn't offer fire times the probability of kill.

(V) Area air defences are much more about restricting the opposing air force's repertoire, and about repelling hostile air power than about killing. Area air defences are static compared to the mobility of air power, so air power can avoid them.

(VI) Ground radar-dependent air defence missiles are more susceptible to SEAD efforts (suppression of enemy air defences) than others because the radar's emissions give away the location of the radar.

(VII) To use air combat missiles (or parts thereof) for surface to air missile systems may reduce costs greatly, but it also creates a systemic risk. One countermeasure might defeat both our fighters' and our air defences' firepower. On the other hand, if all your land-based air defence radars have been destroyed you might actually be able to use the remaining missiles on your fighters in some cases.

(VIII) All widely used systems can be expected to face effective countermeasures within 10 years at the latest.

(IX) Intercept of munitions (such as cruise missiles, glide bombs) may very well be much more important and likely for an air defence system than intercept of strike fighters. The often very expensive air defence missiles (often 300,000 Euros to more than 3 million Euros) might thus face rather cheap (often 50,000-500,000 Euros) targets.

(X) Missile defence is a popular topic and fashion since the 1991 Gulf War and its Scud hysteria. I do doubt that missile defence is all that useful, though. Ballistic and cruise missiles could be launched in the hundreds at the same time, clearly saturating any kind of affordable air defence and all on-station combat air patrol fighters. Furthermore, such a coordinated alpha strike of hundreds of missiles could be launched at the beginning of a conflict when air defence batteries aren't deployed yet, maybe most of their personnel aren't even on duty at the time.
Furthermore, defence against ballistic missiles - especially the guided ones that can fly evasive manoeuvres - is on the one hand an inherent capability of most area air defence systems and on the other hand enhancing this capability requires additional expenses in particular for development, but also compromises (or specialisation) in regard to fusing, warhead layout or even seeker design. In short, an area air defence system with substantial anti-ballistic missile capability is much more expensive than a plain area air defence missile system.

(XI) By now it's irrelevant how much was spent on MEADS in the past, those expenses are now sunk costs. Sadly, much still needs to be paid to get a single first unit operational sometime in the 2020's.

(XII) There are good reasons to distrust both radar and infrared guidances. These guidance principles have been applied for decades  and countermeasures have been developed. IIR seems to be very susceptible to DIRCM (dazzling IR laser pointed at the missile) and radar guidance can be jammed - including by towed jammer decoys (example here) so homing-on-jam doesn't help much either.

(XIII) It's also possible to defeat fuses by jamming (against RF fuses) and false targets (I suspect chaff may be ineffective against modern RF fuses due to their rejection algorithms and doppler effect, but might be effective against laser proximity fuses). Towed decoys may not only be effective against home-on-jam, but also against fuses, since when in between missile and aircraft this towed decoy may initiate the missile's fuse at a safe distance. This is an extension to the Israeli trick of lengthening jet engine nozzles in order to fuse incoming tailchaser missiles just far enough to the rear to save the plane. Any missile but those which rely entirely on hit-to-kill may be defeated by countermeasures to their fuzes.

Israeli A-4 Skyhawk; the exhaust extension is visible

(XIV) I generally think that industry subsidies - as far as legal under EU rules - should be paid from the budget of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, not by the Ministry of Defence (if a all).

Well, what are the alternatives the title is hinting at?

There are no perfect solutions, but avoiding the NIH syndrome helps greatly. I recommend to look closely at two off-the-shelf solutions. Development expenses don't need to exceed the expenses for translations.

Option A: SAMP/T
This is the French solution, already adopted by the Italian military and also used in the naval domain ("Aster"/"PAAMS"). Amazingly, this is even from the same company as MEADS/TLVS. This might make transition negotiations much easier. It uses missiles with active radar seeker (much technology from the French MICA RF air combat missile). The capability against ballistic missiles is likely lesser than MEADS', but it has some such capability. The Italians and Frenchmen already pay for the development of an enhanced ATBM version "B1NT".

SAMP/T, by the way, was the obvious option to use when MEADS was started, since it's quite close in ambition to MEADS. SAMP/T was available before MEADS was begun. We could have had modern area air defences in service for years (in Germany) if we had spent the MEADS development budget simply on purchasing SAMP/T batteries instead.

(company website about SAMP/T here)


NASAMS II uses a modified artillery radar and a missile launcher that can be loaded with different missile types, especially AIM-120 missiles ("AMRAAM,", in air defence applications called "SLAMRAAM") is the primary choice because its active radar seeker needs no target illumination (hence no need for illumination radar). The new AIM-120D missile version has much improved range over earlier ones and would thus greatly boost NASAMS II's range, so a mix including D version missiles and old air force inventory versions would make sense. The missile launcher can actually make use of almost all Western infrared or active radar guided air combat missiles, so this system could recycle old air force air combat missile stocks.

Ballistic missile defence capabilities are apparently not claimed for NASAMS II. The huge advantage of NASAMS II is its relatively low cost; the missiles are unusually "cheap" since you can include old stocks and the radar isn't such a big deal either. The launcher could use infrared guided missiles, so a NASAMS battery could even operate in a backup mode without emitting radar (an electro-optical and infrared sensor is integrated mostly for target identification and early warning includes a data feed from air force assets by datalink anyway).

No area air defence would immunise ground forces against air attack, and this one would suffice to offer a substantial obstacle to air attack well past what Stinger, IRIS-T SLS et cetera could offer.

(company website about NASAMS here)

What I would want to see if we started a program and there were no acceptable off-the-shelf solutions:

SAAB giraffe 4A general purpose radar
I would take the SAAB Giraffe 4A multi-function radar as general purpose "brigade radar" system (three or four per brigade), harden its container with a thick ballistic aluminium alloy shell and use NASAMS's multi missile launcher. This can launch old and new short and medium range missiles* as long as they require no radar illumination, including old air force inventory missiles. I would also insist on some trailer-mounted active radar emitter decoys.
This would be an air defence system for an army corps logistic hub and army manoeuvre brigades in the field.

"Rear" air defences for airbases, bridges, capital et cetera could be based on a containerised air defence system employing the ESSM Block 2 missile once available plus some suitable radar and the MIRADOR sensor. This setup would also be meant to be employed on auxiliary warships for convoy area air defence, so it would be protected against severe Atlantic Ocean weather influences. Again, there would be little requirement for ballistic missile defence here due to (X). I would not insist on an active emitter radio decoy in this case because sophisticated strike packages with SEAD support are an unlikely threat in the "rear" area, while cruise missiles without SEAD support are the most likely targets.
- - - - -

Guided ballistic missiles are great BECAUSE defending against them is so hard. An attempt to defend against them with a high quality/low quantity procurement program is futile, and is even irresponsible if the extreme costs for such a gold-plated program leave insufficient funds for plugging other capability gaps, such as battlefield air defences.** The Luftwaffe's area air defences of today are near-useless for the Heer and MEADS wouldn't be much more helpful either.
As of today - and actually since its founding - the Heer could not defend itself against the kind of bombardment that Daesh endures in Syria and Iraq. This is a consequence of insufficient battlefield air defence service ceilings and unacceptable.

It should be high priority to plug this capability gap, but to spend billions on your own development program is nonsense when there are multiple suitable, sufficiently effective systems available off the shelf from allied countries.

There are no perfect solutions, and the higher the ambition for quality rises, the more clearly insufficient the quantity becomes. Powerful air defences for a mechanised brigade can easily grow so expensive that they cost more than the brigade's main battle tanks! The Gepard self-propelled anti air gun did not three times as much as a Leopard 1 main battle tank in the 1970's already*, and this ratio can easily turn much worse once you demand a much higher service ceiling. Self-discipline is required to seek an optimum compromise instead of gold-plating a program to death, delaying an in-service solution for decades.


P.S.: Please don't lecture me in the comments that MEADS can do more than NASAMS and is in an entirely different league. That's kind of my point. It's in the WRONG league

*: old and new AIM-120A/B/C/D, MICA, IRIS-T, IRIS-T SL, AMRAAM-ER, ESSM Block II, old AIM-9, South African and Israeli missiles, and potentially the cheap RBS-23 (for intercept of glide bombs) if the radar can handle that one. The CAMM project with its development costs is bollocks in face of ESSM Block 2 and I expect it to be cancelled.
**: The concept of opportunity costs isn't understood nearly as widely as it should be.
*: 5.4 million and 1.7 million Deutsche Mark.


  1. Showing my nationality here.
    NASAMS quality is mostly the command centre and its open arcitecture. It is possible to add watever radar you want.

    As of missiles, I do belive that the blk II ESSM was fired from NASAMS recently. That means that one could innclude the SM 6 in smal numbers just to supplement air assets and deter enemy strike platforms.

    1. I would strongly prefer at least at the beginning an entirely off the shelf solution, thus unmodified NASAMS2 or unmodified SAMP/T.
      Keep in mind that billions were blown on developing MEADS and billions were wasted by the Americans on their SLAMRAAM project. One shouldn't give such incompetent bureaucracies the opportunity to waste a billion and a decade on integrating another radar into NASAMS.
      Giraffe 4A is extremely tempting, but a customised area air defence system with Giraffe 4A as its main sensor would take 5-10 years till production (minimum).

  2. It took Kongsberg only a few years to have the Polish NSM battery ready, witch is the NASAMS command and communications with polish radar and ASM. NASAMS was made to integrate into the national air defens structure. Another radar is easy, it could be done without much beurocraric interference...ass if that is possible.

  3. What's your take on 'passive' radars? With an ever denser wireless traffic across the electromagnetic spectrum and ever increasing computing power to process it they should become more and more attractive.


    P.S: I'm quite certain that you know the following paper well:


    1. Active long wavelength radars seem to have only tolerable troubles with LO and VLO strike fighters anyway.

      Battlefield air defences don't need be concerned with aircraft that neither radiate in the RF spectrum nor are detectable with ground-based IIR and UV sensors. Such aircraft would not be able to sense the ground targets and would thus at most be able to deliver munitions based on maps.

      Rear area air defences on the other hand face a most difficult to solve problems with saturation attack waves of cruise and ballistic PGMs.

      As with submarines, in worst case it's probably easier to take on stealth strike fighters by attacking their bases and support than by hunting them directly.
      Furthermore, the ultimate expression of air superiority is a tank on the runway.

    2. Good points. My arguments for bi- or multistatic radars are not so much about LO or VLO as seen in the popular press but about specific qualities. An addition might very well create a bigger whole for the same sum.

      1) If combined with smart fieldcraft their survivability creates a continues threat-in-being for enemy assets thus limiting their freedom of action.

      Your article and comment about waves of increasingly sophisticated missiles targeting key elements like active radar limit their use. Basically since Radar existed it has been hunted, raided or bombed.

      2) Other sensors like active radar, infrared etc can be cued to detections, enabling them to work with hard glances if the enemy EW threat is high.

      3) Missiles with potent onboard sensors can equally be cued until they can do the job alone.

      4) Passive radar can work with lots of different bands and emitters creating lots of geometries and specific properties.

      This combined with the passive nature makes it very hard to program aircraft missions as it's a flight into the various unkown.

      All in all no wonder-weapon but a very interesting old approach with lots of favorable technical trends...


      P.S: Extra heavy boosters, maybe a ton or more could be rather interesting for SAMP/T
      or other expensive missiles.

      This might mean two trucks for the same amount of ready missiles but if the missile itself is the big cost driver...