Defense program under fire, Salina jobs at stake

A missile defense program that means 325 jobs in the town of Salina is barely afloat, but a group of congressmen want to sink it altogether.

The Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS has been under fire since Army Secretary John McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee that the project was under performing. Last year, congress denied a $400 million appropriation in this years defense budget to continue work on MEADS. At stake are 235 well paying jobs at the Lockheed Martin plant in Salina which has been developing the anti-missile system for the past four years.

The pentagon is keeping the MEADS program afloat by allocating $25 million from money left over from last year's defense budget. Now a group of eight congressman have written a letter to Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale calling upon him to immediately begin winding down the program. The letter reads in part: "Ending this wasteful program is especially necessary at a time when the department of defense must find ways to reduce spending..."

Newly re-elected Central New York Congressman Dan Maffei says the project is not a waste of taxpayer money. "We've developed this together with the Germans and the Italians so in fact this is a way to save money because we work with other forces." Maffei says the MEADS defense system is a "sequel" to the Patriot missile and points out that the congressmen who are calling for its demise, have ties to the Patriot program. "(They) represent districts that manufacture the Patriot. They don't like it and that's one of the reasons they wrote the letter."

Maffei says he will meet with Army Secretary John McHugh in hopes of restoring funding for MEADS. McHugh is a former congressman from northern New York. He is also quoted as telling the House Armed Services Committee that the MEADS project was "under performing."