Missile Defence - general implications of UK involvement

Notes of a presentation given by Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR, for "Missile Defence and the Weaponisation of Space: Why Britain's role must be challenged", House of Commons, 18 October 2006

UK involvement

  • Major lack of info in public domain
  • No formal agreement for UK to be part of MD system yet, but many think it inevitable
  • RAF Fylingdales [1, 2]

Early Warning Radar (EWR) station

permission given in February 2003 for Fylingdales to be upgraded for MD purposes

aim of the upgrade is to increase accuracy of detection of ballistic missiles (although not at this stage to X-band radar which is the level necessary for MD)

upgrade due for completion by spring 2006, but no public info on whether this has happened

upgrade funded by USA

  • RAF Menwith Hill [1,3]

Main function of the base is electronic monitoring (eavesdropping)

Part of the base is a ground-based relay station (ie compiles and distributes data) of Space-Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS) for tracking ballistic missiles - this is the main potential use in MD

Major technical problems with implementation of SBIRS

Base is run by US National Security Agency

US have not yet asked for permission to use Menwith Hill in MD

  • UK is potential site for anti-missile interceptor missiles [4, 5]

Interceptors already stationed at bases in Alaska (9 interceptors) and California (2 interceptors)

Shortlist for European base includes UK, Poland and Czech Republic

Central Europe is preferred by US as it closer to Middle East

However, growing opposition, both political and public, in Poland and Czech Republic means UK is still under consideration

Russia is especially hostile to Central European involvement

"US has not yet made a formal approach" according to UK officials

Could be 10 interceptors and hundreds of US soldiers stationed by 2011

US congress has approved $56m preliminary funding for European interceptor base

Site may well not be Fylingdales or Menwith Hill - better strategically to have different military installations far from each other

US decision on host country could be this autumn

  • UK Missile Defence Centre (MDC) [7, 8, 9, 10, 11]

set up in summer 2003

programme for developing UK industrial collaboration on MD projects, including providing policy advice to government on MD issues

key is facilitating UK involvement in US projects, and hence works closely with US Missile Defence Agency (MDA)

facilitates both R&D projects and potential manufacturing for deployment

a UK-US Memorandum of Understanding specifies the conditions of co-operation between MDC and MDA - includes personnel and information exchanges, and includes major restrictions on any information about the work being made public (including that which might normally be available under the Freedom of Information Act)

£5m per year for up to 6y from government; matching funding from industry

Founding industrial partners: BAE Systems, QinetiQ, Insys, MBDA and AMS

Real potential for university involvement

  • MoD MD-related work (not clear if part of MDC) includes:

Weapon System and Kinetic Kill Vehicle - command and control (computer) systems for interceptor missiles; sensor systems for identifying targets (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), MBDA, QinetiQ, Insys)

Representative Ballistic Missile Targets - development of dummy targets that realistically replicate the behaviour of incoming warheads (DSTL, Insys)

NATO has recently announced that it is starting development on MD command and control system - £50m (75m euros) over 6y - MDC will be involved



  • UK involvement in MD further ties us to US military and foreign policy, with its focus on narrow weapons-based agenda for dealing with international problems. This:

further enshrines USA as the dominant military force in the world which increases the insecurity felt by many states and hence stimulates arms build-ups

fails to deal with the root of international tensions, which is necessary to tackle problems in the long-term

will lead to the weaponisation of space, again contributing to an arms race

together with UK nuclear weapons, undermines UK commitments to nuclear weapons disarmament

is likely to increase the terrorist threat to the UK and overseas interests

  • MDC activities further tie UK industry, and potentially universities, to military work

Skills shortages are growing especially in physical sciences and engineering, the areas with most potential for MD

Hence, any growth of MD work will compete for scientists and engineers with other areas

UK scientific and technological expertise is urgently needed in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, in order to help tackle climate change (a global security problem), so any diversion of expertise could undermine this work


Concluding comments

  • MD in the US has already proven to be hugely expensive (current annual funding around $8bn)
  • test failure after test failure shows how little of it works
  • so it's not even successful on its own terms
  • added to these:

MD can fuel international tension and build-up of arms

diplomatic attempts to deal with international tensions are often neglected

scientific and technical expertise is urgently needed elsewhere to help tackle global social and environmental problems

  • so it's time to give up on MD and use the resources elsewhere
  • a good first step would be for the UK to withdraw from involvement in MD



(web links correct as of 17/10/06)

[1] BASIC (2003). A BASIC guide to Missile Defence and the weaponisation of space. http://www.basicint.org/nuclear/NMD/mdflier.pdf

[2] Yorkshire CND (2006). The Fylingdales site. http://cndyorks.gn.apc.org/fdales/index.htm

[3] Yorkshire CND (2006). The Menwith Hill site. http://cndyorks.gn.apc.org/mhs/index.htm

[4] Yorkshire CND (2006). News items on US attempts to station missile defence in Europe.

[5] Baldwin T. (2006). US turns back to Britain as its base for Son of Star Wars. The Times. August 16. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,11069-2315036,00.html

[6] Ministry of Defence (2003). Lord Bach attends launch of UK Missile Defence Centre. MoD press release as reported by M2 PressWIRE, July 21. (via Yorkshire CND website: http://www.cndyorks.gn.apc.org/yspace/articles/bmd/ukmdcentre.htm)

[7] Ministry of Defence (2006). UK Missile Defence Centre - Mission. http://www.science.mod.uk/content/himdcsum.pdf

[8] US DoD/UK MoD (2003). Memorandum of Understanding between US Department of Defense and UK Ministry of Defence concerning Ballistic Missile Defence. (via BASIC website: http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Press/2003sept9.pdf )

[9] Ministry of Defence (2006). Missile Defence related research. http://www.science.mod.uk/content/hiwskv.pdf and  http://www.science.mod.uk/content/himdctar.pdf

[10] ACDN (2006). 26 Nations Begin The Building of Missile Defense to Defend Europe. http://acdn.france.free.fr/spip/breve.php3?id_breve=195&lang=en

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