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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): Security in Afghanistan is primarily the responsibility of the Afghans themselves. Within Kabul, the International Security Assistance Force has more than 4,600 troops from 22 nations and continues to help the Transitional Islamic Authority of Afghanistan maintain the security and stability of Afghanistan's capital.
Lord Bach: We have today received a letter from United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, requesting UK agreement to upgrade the early warning radar at RAF Fylingdales for missile defence purposes.
As set out in the discussion paper published on 9 December, the Government believe that the developing ballistic missile threat is one that we must take very seriously. We assess that at present there is no immediate significant threat to the territory of the UK from ballistic missiles. However, intentions can change quickly, and the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles are continuing. We could not wait until a specific threat became clear before determining how to defend against it.
The US is looking to work closely with friends and allies in developing defences which enhance global security in the face of this potential threat. As well as improving US defence, an upgraded Fylingdales radar would be a key building block in the extension of missile defence to Europe should we and other European allies so desire. In this context, Mr Rumsfeld's letter contains the undertaking that, if Fylingdales were to be upgraded, and should we desire it, then the US would be prepared to extend missile defence coverage and make missile defence capabilities available to the UK as the evolution
RAF Fylingdales has operated since 1963 as one of several sites which provide early warning of ballistic missile launches against this country, Western Europe or the United States. The station is under UK operational command and the data it produces are shared between the UK and US military authorities. The upgrade requested would enable the system to track ballistic missiles more accurately so that they could be engaged by interceptors, in addition to the radar's existing role. We understand that a parallel request has been made to the Danish Government for upgrade of the radar at Thule, Greenland.
The US propose no change to existing arrangements for data-sharing and operational command at Fylingdales, maintaining the long-established principle of joint decision-making relating to the use of US strategic assets based in the UK. It is expected that the work would involve installation of new computers and software and an additional communications link. No material environmental impact would be expected but this will need to be confirmed in further discussions with the US and local planning authorities. The US would hope to start work later next year and will accordingly make contingency provision in its defence budget.
Mr Rumsfeld's letter also proposes the early conclusion of a new bilateral research, development, test and evaluation memorandum of understanding to ensure that the UK, both government and industry, has the fullest possible insight into, and opportunity for involvement in, the missile defence programme. We believe this represents an important industrial and technological opportunity for the UK regardless of our response to the US request.
The decision on Fylingdales upgrade will be an important one, and the Government are keen for it to be informed by public and parliamentary discussion. We shall ensure that this House has appropriate opportunities to discuss the issues in the new year.
The Government will now consider the US request very seriously, agreeing to it only if we are satisfied that it will ultimately enhance the security of the UK and the NATO alliance. We will make a further statement in due course.
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