From Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters:  German and Italian officials warned U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that their plans to cut off funding for a ground-based NATO missile defense program built by Lockheed Martin Corp would endanger U.S. ties with their countries.

Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola urged U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ensure continued funding for the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System (MEADS) program given its importance to NATO’s future plans and transatlantic cooperation and collaboration.

German legislator Ernst Reinhard Beck said in a series of e letters to U.S. lawmakers that withholding funding for the program "undermines the longstanding and trustful MEADS partnership" and would risk wasting hundreds of millions of euros already invested in the air missile system.

Three congressional committees have scrapped the Obama administration’s request for $400 million to complete funding for testing of the new missile defense program, which is jointly financed by the United States, Italy and Germany.

Di Paola urged Panetta to intervene with the fourth committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, that must still vote on the measure. "We hope and expect that the United States would live up to its (Memorandum of Understanding) commitment," he said in a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

Beck said failure by the U.S. Congress to fund the final phase of work on the program would be "perceived by Germany as breaking our transatlantic agreement and memorandum of understanding." It would mark the first time that one of the three partners had terminated a contract and endangered their special relationship, he said. . . .

The unilateral withdrawal from the joint project would "probably cause significant financial and national security relationship challenge," he wrote.  (graphic: Flight International)