Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. What makes the United Kingdom attractive? Is it purely economic or is it geographic or is it just political?
  (Mr Hawtin) I think it is the fact in particular that there are already longstanding facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill.

  81. It is surely not just a question of the cash, because of the amount of money that the Americans are willing to throw at this. Surely it is not just a question: "well, it would be cheaper to put it at Menwith Hill". The billions of dollars that they are willing to invest in this would surely put that down the line. Is it because we are politically acceptable or is it the best geography? Is it part of bringing us into this issue?
  (Mr Hawtin) Can I be clear what you mean by "it"?

  82. The use of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill and the delivery of missile defence by way of that. One could argue that the cheapest way to do that would be at Fylingdales or Menwith Hill but is not the major motivation with Fylingdales and Menwith Hill that there would be the political involvement of the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Hawtin) I cannot comment on the precise American calculations but the fact that one has existing facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill no doubt features very large in their calculations. In terms of what Clinton was considering doing, if one is looking in the first instance at a possible upgrade of the existing early warning radar at Fylingdales, the attractions of upgrading an existing early warning radar are self-evident. If you have something which is already there which in terms of upgrading would involve software, internal changes, why go to the trouble of building an entirely different radar somewhere else to replicate that? The issue of an X-band radar, if that is what you meant by "it", is an entirely different proposition, as I hope we have sought to explain. On that, there is no reason why it has to be in the United Kingdom. As Mr Roper said, it could be anywhere in north west Europe or indeed, as I said, they are also looking at sea based options.

Mr Knight

  83. If Fylingdales were to be used, from what you talked about earlier in terms of the importance of tracking in any architecture of a defence system, it would be quite a crucial element. Could you comment on your perception of the increased threat to the United Kingdom and the area around Fylingdales in performing quite a pivotal part of the architecture because clearly that is quite an important part of the political debate that we are trying to inform.
  (Mr Hawtin) As far as that is concerned, we should start by putting on the table the fact that we do benefit from the facilities at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill in the United Kingdom. As far as the risk is concerned, I do not think it is axiomatic that there will be any increased risk to the United Kingdom. The principal driver in terms of threats to the United Kingdom is not missile defence but again, as we discussed right at the outset of this discussion, the risk of proliferation of missiles, the states of concern, and the possibility that the United Kingdom might at some point be at risk.

  84. If you were wishing to launch an attack on, say, the United States from the Middle East and you saw the missile defence system that the United States had constructed as being a significant obstacle to your successful launch, would it not be logical to take out Fylingdales first along the way? You would have a 20 minute or half hour time lag between the two which may be a risk to your own security. I can see how the logic of that works but there has to be some increased risk to that part of the United Kingdom that they would want to take out that facility.
  (Mr Hawtin) We are getting into the realms of hypothesis.

  85. I prefaced it with an "if".
  (Mr Hawtin) I will also preface my answer with the "if". We are talking, in terms of capabilities, as I think we have demonstrated, of a limited capability. That capability is not something that any potential aggressor would necessarily want to use on, in your terms, taking out the warning facilities. Were they to do so, that sends a pretty clear warning signal in its own right. They have a limited capability; they wish to pose a threat to the United States for whatever reason. Taking out the intermediate links in that is not necessarily an attractive option and we do not see that as a risk in the context of deterrence, which is the root of your question. Whilst we are talking about a position of US missile defence, the United Kingdom continues to have its own deterrent capability and has its own very clear, declaratory policy which in sum makes plain to any potential aggressor that they would not be allowed to gain political or military advantage from attack on the United Kingdom and that any such attack would be met with an appropriately serious response.

  86. I accept that. In your thinking of how you might, at some point in the future, respond to a request to use Fylingdales, would you not also be saying, "If you are going to use it, you are going to have to cover us with your system as well"?
  (Mr Hawtin) Were the government to get a request, that is something they would need to consider at the time as part of their consideration and response but again I am in some difficulty since I cannot prophesy what that is.

  87. You must be thinking about how you would respond to the request.
  (Mr Hawtin) We are thinking through the implications of a possible request, the kind of request that might come forward, as we have indicated. The implications for the United Kingdom would be very much, I am sure, in the mind of the government of the day, whatever that government was, and they would wish to take a decision based on their assessment of the United Kingdom's national interests, which would no doubt range from a number of things, including the nature of the request, the implications for the United Kingdom's defence through to, for example, the need and the desirability, as ministers have made clear, of not having a situation in which our major, closest ally were to feel vulnerable.

Rachel Squire

  88. Carrying on the theme of what options there might be for Europe and the United Kingdom, as we are all aware, in Europe the focus has tended to be much more on defences against shorter range missiles and using systems which certainly do not look to cover anything like the land mass that the United States is now looking at. As you are aware, as part of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the MoD launched TRRAP, the Technology Readiness and Risk Assessment Programme. That, I understand, concluded at the time that it was premature to decide on acquiring a ballistic missile defence for the United Kingdom. Clearly, a decision could be left to a later date. It was felt at that time it was premature. Has that conclusion been changed at all by 11 September, as far as options for the United Kingdom and Europe are concerned? Picking up on the points you made earlier about timing and development and readiness, if a decision was made to acquire missile defence, what kind of timescale do you think would be involved, as and when it would be ready, between making the decision to acquire it and being able to introduce it into operation?
  (Mr Hawtin) That is an excellent set of questions, to which I wish I could only give a precise answer. Let me start and I am sure Mr Roper will want to come in.


  89. Are you going to ask Mr Helliwell? He has been eager to come in.
  (Mr Hawtin) I shall. The first question on the SDR programme and TRRAP: we have given you the unclassified version of the TRRAP programme but your statement that it was premature to seek to acquire missile defences remains the case as the TRRAP report makes clear. You do raise an important point which is that we are not concerned simply and primarily about the protection of the United Kingdom homeland but also about the protection of deployed forces to, for example, areas in the Gulf where they might be exposed to attacks from ballistic missiles and that remains a very real concern for us. Secondly, has 11 September changed the situation for the United Kingdom and Europe? The answer to that is not directly in the sense that you had there use of civil technology for terrorist purposes which would not have been countered by missile defence. What it did show was very clearly the motivation of certain organisations and people to pose a very real, considerable threat to the west and to global civilisation and the preparedness to do that without consequence for human life. That is something we are looking at very seriously as part of the SDR New Chapter work, but it does not alter the fact that missile defence as a possible component of the over-arching strategy in the way we described it earlier still remains. I do not think for the United Kingdom and Europe that has changed the equation. The United States had a debate about this issue following 11 September, whether missile defence was more or less important and whether they should spend the resources on other counter terrorist activities. I think it is fair to say you will have your own perceptions from visiting the United States but the judgment, when the debate came out, concluded that the importance of missile defence, if anything, was greater rather than less than before 11 September. Finally, on defence for Europe, including the United Kingdom, I cannot give you a precise answer to your question because this is a very clear example of the difficulties of deciding on the way ahead, the problems of emerging technology and the difficulty of dealing with threats. The United States are concerned primarily with long range threats to the United States homeland. If you look at the geography of Europe, the threat comes from not just long range missiles from the states of concern but also from shorter range systems and indeed some areas of southern Europe are already at risk, for example, from Shahab missiles[20], including Cyprus. How one counters that is anything but straightforward in terms of technology and missile defence. You need a mix of systems to counter short and longer range missiles. Those are different systems. You need over-arching architecture for bringing those systems together. You would no doubt need a whole complex of radar, missile interceptor bases, and other facilities. It is something on which in the 1 May speech last year and repeated in the recent State of the Union address, President Bush talked about, the protection of friends and allies, but what that means in precise terms has yet to be made clear. It is not something on which I can tell you what the timescale is. It is an immensely complex task for which the TRRAP studies and the work that NATO is doing and no doubt also the American research, development, testing and evaluation programme will all contribute. What it would look like if it ever happened and in what timescale, I cannot tell you.

  (Mr Helliwell) You mentioned the position set out in the Strategic Defence Review, that we believed it was premature to decide on acquiring a missile defence capability. You will have noticed that the judgment after the TRRAP report, the unclassified version of which you have received, was the same. It still remains premature because the technology to counter the threat is evolving. We need to look at a broad range of measures to tackle the threat and there are areas of technical risk that we need to understand more. While the overall position is the same as it was in 1998, we still believe it is premature. It is important to note the whole process of going through the TRRAP programme; also, our involvement in NATO feasibility studies which are now underway and our technical dialogue with the US are getting us further down the road to being able to make informed decisions at some point in the future and increasing our understanding of the kind of technological and other factors that can factor into making such decisions.

Rachel Squire

  90. It is very complex and there is no quick, easy or immediate answer. Yet, in terms of what we have all recognised as starting to identify that you may need some new system, new technology, and the time that then elapses between beginning to think that and being able to operate it, we have all agreed and certainly this government has made it very clear that that gap needs to be reduced and Smart Acquisition has been very much one of the themes of the day. What you were saying that the TRRAP conclusion that it would be premature remains the same. Is it helpful to leave the decisions to later, that if we should ever decide it was an appropriate system, that that can be left and we wait for 20 years before it happens?
  (Mr Helliwell) It first of all depends on how you seek to acquire the system, whether you are developing one from scratch or whether you acquire a system which is already available or at a reasonably advanced stage of development in the US that would meet our requirements. If the latter, the timescale from making the decision to acquisition is nowhere near as long as if you were developing something from scratch. What things like TRRAP and NATO feasibility studies are doing is looking at the characteristics of the systems that might be required to meet a particular requirement and assessing how that could be met with systems that either already exist, of which there are very few, or those that are under development. What we want to do is put ourselves in a position where, when we do take the decision, if we decide to acquire a capability, the length of time it takes to do so is reduced by our ability to understand the technical issues involved. That is what TRRAP and so on is all about.
  (Mr Hawtin) And that we make the right choices, given the financial implications, which will be very considerable.

  91. With the benefit of hindsight, TRRAP, the assessment programme, has now led to two further studies which seem to be fairly basic areas of missile research. Do you think those studies should have been conducted earlier? Do they differ from earlier work and how long will it be before we know their conclusions?
  (Mr Helliwell) I do not think the follow on studies from TRRAP are basic studies. Indeed, on the technical side, the further technical work that we are doing is more complex than TRRAP because it is looking at the particularly difficult areas that are involved in missile defence. It is also beginning to look at longer range, more complex threats, so we would not have been able to do this more complex, technical work if we had not done TRRAP in the first place. The other work that is going on now relates to the need to look at the role active defences can play as part of a balanced spectrum of defensive capabilities, including passive defences, counter force and deterrence, which we touched on earlier. The equations involved in that are quite complex and it is important to understand, when making balance of investment decisions, whether active defence is something we want to acquire.

Mr Howarth

  92. You have told us some work is underway. I have to confess I find what you say very generalised. I do not get a handle on it. What I do know, having been to the United States, is that the United States administration is absolutely determined to take action against a real threat. They are investing $7.8 billion in the coming financial year. We are closer to some of the rogue states than they are. I feel at times there is an element of complacency about the Ministry of Defence's position, saying that it would be premature for us to make a decision on ballistic missile defence when the United States has clearly taken a very different view. Have you done any studies as to how much it would cost to develop a system to protect the United Kingdom mainland or a theatre system to protect our own troops who are currently deployed elsewhere who could be at risk?
  (Mr Hawtin) May I say that the United States intends very clearly to acquire missile defences. What it has not yet done is decide what those kind of missile defences should be or how they would fit together. The delivery of it they are looking at and that indicates very clearly the complexities of the problem and the issues. Are we complacent? No, we do not believe so. We have done these studies which we have described. We are continuing to do our own national studies; we are participating in the NATO studies and we are keeping very closely alongside the United States on their work. If we reach the point, as Mr Helliwell very clearly said, that the balance of investment appraisal were to support a decision by the government to acquire missile defences we would then acquire the right defences, but it is not a simple issue of purchasing something off the shelf for the protection of Europe given the different ranges of incoming missile.

  93. We clearly understand the position of the United States. They have not identified the technology that they want to deploy. We recognise that the United Kingdom does not have the resources that the United States has but do you have specific contracts with specific United Kingdom companies or specific United Kingdom research agencies which themselves are working alongside the Americans to try and assist? Are we participants with the US in assessing these different technologies? Do we have something to contribute? I just do not get a handle on where we are with this.
  (Mr Roper) Our programmes are very modest in comparison with the United States. You mentioned the US sum of money being spent. The amount of money we are spending is three orders of magnitude smaller than that. We do have some ongoing work beyond TRRAP, both looking at the follow on to TRRAP in terms of defence of deployed forces and now the studies looking at defence of the homeland, that longer range threat which was not addressed in TRRAP. We do place small sums of money with British industry, the same types of people that were involved in TRRAP.

  94. When you say "small sums of money", we know the figure in the United States because it is imprinted on my mind, $7.8 billion. What are we doing?
  (Mr Roper) We are spending roughly the same amount of money now as we were during the TRRAP programme, which is roughly £4 million a year.

Mr Hancock

  95. Spread about?
  (Mr Roper) Yes.

Mr Howarth

  96. Is it spread about companies or is it with Qinetiq or DSTL?
  (Mr Roper) It does involve DSTL; it involves MBDA, Qinetiq and BAE Systems.

  97. Is this work also being conducted alongside the Americans? As the Americans are assessing the technology and the different technologies available, are we alongside them and are we contributing?
  (Mr Roper) In terms of the latter point, I would love to think we could technically influence the United States but when you are spending three orders of magnitude less than they are we would have to be very smart to seriously influence their technical thinking. The studies that we are paying for in the United Kingdom are not alongside the US. We have the channel of talking generically to the US government to government, which we do, and there is dialogue which sometimes involves subcontractors. Primarily, the two programmes are separate, but share a common communication channel.

  98. Do you think there are specific technologies that we could be offering to the United States so that we could demonstrate our own commitment to the protection of our own people by participating in the US ballistic missile defence programme?
  (Mr Roper) There are niche areas where—

  99. We are quite good at that, are we not, in our research base?
  (Mr Roper) We are quite good on some aspects of sensors, not big radar but infra red sensors. We have a lot of experience in counter measures in the Chevaline programme but we are not in the big missile business and we have not been for many years, so we do not have much to offer there.

20   Note from Witness: Also from Scud Missiles Back

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