Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2002
HAWTIN CB, COMMODORE
OBE RN, MR PAUL
40. That long! We certainly heard some of that
when we were in Washington, but how do the Americans prove, for
example, to Russia and China that that is the technology that
is going to be used and it cannot be enhanced further along the
line to create a known danger or perceived danger to those two
countries? That is obviously going to be an American problem,
to get them to agree to this system but to say, "This is
as far as we can go", but is it as far as we can go? How
do they prove that?
(Mr Roper) Certainly a key thing is how many interceptors
the US starts to build. Russia has under the ABM Treaty the ability
to deploy a hundred and has a significant number now and has done
since the 1960s, which has not caused the US any great problems,
but quite clearly America could have many tens of interceptors
and in reality no capability against Russia. Indeed, it could
have hundreds of interceptors and it would have only modest capability
against the size of the Russian arsenal. In the case of China
it is more difficult because she has a small number of long range
nuclear-tipped missiles but has expansion plans and those expansion
plans pre-date US missile defence initiatives.
41. What I am trying to get at here on these
initiatives is, can we have a leak-proof defence umbrella that
people are going to recognise as leak-proof?
(Mr Roper) It is very difficult to make it leak-proof.
Certainly US plans envisage launching a number of missiles at
every single incoming body to maximise the probability of intercepting
but it is never 100 per cent.
(Mr Hawtin) Can I pick up on this? As far as the United
States are concerned what they have made plain they are concerned
about is the limited and emerging missile defence threat from
the states of concern we have talked about. They are addressing
the threat as they see it from a handful of missiles. They have
made it absolutely plain, both publicly and in discussions, we
understand, with Russia and with China, that they are not concerned
about the threat from, if I may put it in these terms, responsible
existing nuclear powers. If one looks at the size of the Russian
capability, 6,000 or so warheads, the kind of very limited missile
defence capability the Americans are exploring is not in any way
the kind of defence that could deal with that
42. Do the Russians and Chinese agree with that,
that the Americans see that there is not a threat?
(Mr Hawtin) You would have to ask the Russians and
the Chinese. I think it is self-evident if one looks at the number
of warheads that the Russians have and a limited missile defence
capability to deal with a handful of missiles, that there is a
massive disparity there. Equally I think the Americans have made
it very plain apropros China that their concern, as we said earlier,
is North Korea, not China.
43. One of the criticisms of what the Americans
are proposing is this suggestion of what some styled "Star
Wars" as a media expression and a political expression. Are
you saying it is qualitatively and quantitatively different? This
is not a universal missile shield like the roof on the Millennium
Stadium and it is not intended to be? Are you saying that it is
obvious to people who are technically oriented that this is different
from upgrading the radiant style shield that is impenetrable?
(Mr Hawtin) I am saying exactly that, Chairman. I
think you put it very well when you said it was qualitatively
and quantitatively different, but again may I invite Mr Roper
to explain why that is.
(Mr Roper) Indeed it is very different quantitatively
and qualitatively. The Reagan Strategic Defence Initiative was
designed to shield America against a massive Soviet attack and
it planned to use space based weapons, beams and particles, engaging
Soviet missiles in the mid-course phase; technologically an immense
challenge and extremely futuristic 20 years ago, to be frank.
It is almost still as futuristic today and for a few years that
initiative waned and they moved to something called Global Protection
Against Limited Strikes in which the emphasis was still space
based and still mid-course but they had moved to kinetic energy
kill, but supplemented by ground based interceptors, so they had
moved back by then to the more prudent concept of hitting a missile
with a missile. That is far more prudent than space based weapons.
That was designed to defend against a much smaller attack of perhaps
100 incoming Russian or other bodies, and that too waned after
a few years and there was a bit of a hiatus as emphasis concentrated
on theatre missile defence until Clinton re-opened the national
missile defence debate, looking almost exclusively at the traditional
ground-based interceptor technology, much more prudent, no exotic
space based weapons in it and against a very thin attack, a few
44. But if the United States was going towards
what some styled Star Wars would this be a route? Is this the
route they would take and build upon it later or would it need
to be something very different?
(Mr Roper) The difference between the Clinton plans,
which were focused on ground-based interceptors primarily, mid-course
phase, and Bush Junior is that under Bush their research development
engineering is now on a much broader front. They are looking at
airborne weapons; they are looking at space weapons. There is
a phrase you hear now that the current plans are not requirement
driven; they are capability driven with the view that we are going
to develop our technology across a broad front and when we find
one we think works we will put it in service. That is why you
struggle to find specific timescales in the Bush plans compared
with Clinton. Having said that, if you look at the breakdown in
the funding that the US is putting into effect the technology
which was receiving most of the money was the element of the Clinton
plan for ground-based interception.
45. Theatre defence?
(Mr Roper) I am talking strategic here.
46. But we were also told in America time and
time again that there is still great store placed on theatre missile
defence, for example Taiwan against China, which was obviously
annoying the Chinese, although someone said, "They did not
really mind too much to complain for just a little while"
but the reality was that they are still focused on theatre missile
defence when it comes to Taiwan.
(Mr Roper) There has been a little bit more stability
in the plans for theatre missile defence, certainly since the
Gulf War. They have had plans of layered missile defence; again
it is missile shooting down missile primarily. Those plans are
moving forward and some elements are close to entering service.
(Mr Hawtin) May I just add that Taiwan does not have
theatre missile defences, just as a point of clarification and
fact. Could I also go back to space, which Mr Roper touched on.
The American policy is not to put weapons in space. They do I
think have one or two technology demonstrator programmes in that
area but weaponisation of space is not US policy.
47. Hearing what you said, and listening very
carefully to what the Americans said, at the end of the day, if
the technology is still a decade or more away, the only real solution
to a rogue state firing a missile is a pre-emptive strike against
that missile, is it not, on the ground before it is fired? Surely
that at the end of the day is the only real solution that gives
you a guaranteed missile defence.
(Mr Hawtin) One has to deal with the threat through
a range of activities, as I said earlier, from arms control, export
controls, through the spectrum to the other end, missile defence,
which is one component of that strategy. The Americans are concerned
about the growing threat, particularly from North Korea, and in
their terms see missile defence against that as a sensible instrument
in the armoury.
48. The logical conclusion of that is that they
failed on many of those courses, have they not? Nuclear proliferation
has not stopped countries getting them. They have not been able
to stop the technology. Countries have got them. They have not
got a solution to this and the more they crank up public opinion
in favour of coming up with something, they have got to solve
it by some other means.
(Mr Hawtin) I would not articulate the situation or
American perceptions in quite those terms. The first point is
very clear and that is that there is no one single simple silver
bullet answer to the problem. One has to have an over-arching
strategy and a set of inter-related instruments of the kind I
have listed and I will not go through that again, but it is made
plain in a number of statements by HMG and indeed in the Bush/Blair
summit statements how missile defence fits into that broader spectrum.
Secondly, I would not articulate American concerns as stimulating
the debate in the way you are perhaps implying. What I see American
concern and policy as directed towards is ensuring that we continue
to operate across that spectrum but that in addition to the measures
we are operating at the moment, as they see it there is a case
for missile defence as one instrument in that armoury.
49. Clearly what you are saying is that the
proposals that have been put forward by the Clinton administration
were also put forward by the Bush Junior administration are largely
different from the Star Wars initiative in terms of Reagan which
were space based lasers etc. What is your assessment in terms
of schemes even in the present priorities? Some more ambitious
proposals? Are they workable? What is the timescale in terms of
delivering some of these? The other thing is, of all the things
that have been put forward at the moment what is the most promising
to yield results most quickly?
(Mr Roper) There is no doubt that the most robust
solution is ground-based missiles intercepting the incoming threats
in the mid-course phase. I do not think anybody would challenge
that. We would all have different views about the prospects for
the more exotic solutions. I am a traditionalist and I do not
put huge faith in them in the near term.
50. So in terms of currently where they are
at, what is the most promising in the actual ground based theatre
(Mr Roper) The Americans have developed a large missile
called the ground-based interceptor. It is like an ICBM. It is
the one they plan to put in a test bed in Alaska and it is the
one they are conducting a number of integrated flight tests on
and they have had some successes and some failures. I have no
doubt that with more development, more testing, the number of
successes will grow as a proportion and the failures will shrink.
51. What about the effectiveness of some of
the more ambitious proposals in terms of laser technology? What
is your assessment of where that is at?
(Mr Roper) The airborne laser, which is a powerful
laser on board a Boeing 747, has potential, and this is a system
primarily for attacking missiles in the boost phase. You have
to have it fairly close to the launch site, two or three hundred
kilometres. That is quite difficult in terms of logistics. It
depends on what country you are defending yourself against. In
deep land-locked countries it would be very difficult to get that
aircraft on station over there, but maybe North Korea has some
potential. I think the US consider it to be of greater potential
in the North Korea scenario.
52. Supposing you get the technology right in
terms of it working, you are never going to get a position where
you are going to have a 100 per cent shield, are you, in any type
of theatre or any type of country? If one missile gets through
with either a chemical, biological or nuclear warhead on it, it
is going to have a pretty major impact wherever it lands.
(Mr Roper) Yes. Mathematically it is impossible to
have 100 per cent success rate, but if you are facing a very small
threat of just a small number of bodies, and you are prepared
to launch several missiles at each of those, then very quickly
the probability of at least one of your defensive missiles taking
out a threat grows very sharply as you launch salvo size more
53. But is that not more difficult if you have
got, for example, decoys and other things on warheads?
(Mr Roper) The counter measure business is a fascinating
business. A lot has been said about it. That is the downside potentially
of the mid-course phase because, as I mentioned, a feather and
a brick will follow the same trajectory, so what is to stop you
throwing up a load of light things like feathers? It is not as
easy as that, as we found when we upgraded Polaris to Chevaline.
It is remarkably difficult to do it and throw a body off in a
manner that makes it look credible and has a signature which looks
the same. That was quite difficult in the 1970s against the sensors
available then. It is more difficult today with the more sophisticated
sensors the US can employ. It clearly can stress defences if you
have got decoys, even ones which are fully credible. The radars
will spend a bit of time deciding they are not credible and so,
depending on the size of the raid coming in, we can begin run
off assets to thoroughly investigate them, but it is not easy
to do it and it is not easy to do it without flight tests. Any
emergent state that thinks it can stick something on the missile
and not go through an extensive flight trial programme and these
decoys will be credible is almost certainly fooling itself.
(Mr Hawtin) May I add two points to Mr Roper's remarks?
The first is that we have focused discussion so far on a number
of systems that there is a possibility that the Americans are
testing and researching, but I should emphasise, as I am sure
the Committee were told in Washington, they are conducting research
and development across a very wide spectrum of possibilities and
have not decided which are the best of those, and indeed their
whole approach is to research, develop and pick and choose potential
winners, so we do need to keep that in mind. Secondly, in terms
of deterrence, no system is 100 per cent effective. I think it
is not unfair to observe that the inhabitants of the United States
would doubtless rather be covered by a missile defence that was
50 per cent effective, for example, rather than none at all. In
terms of deterrence were one to have a missile defence system
the reality is that that complicates the calculations of any potential
aggressor and reduces the chances of a successful missile attack
and therefore the risks from that potential aggressor. We can
also take into account and put into the equation the distinct
likelihood that any attack would be met with an appropriate response
from the United States.
54. Because of the closeness of our relationship
with the United States, which we shall not go into, one would
anticipate the United States keeping us pretty well informed as
to what they are doing. It is a sensitive question, Mr Hawtin.
You do not need me to tell you what the sensitive questions are,
but how surprised would we be if the Americans came out with a
new technology that worked other than reading it in The Times
or The Guardian? Are we involved in that process? Are there
any surprises? Do we have British researchers engaged in this
kind of work? How well appraised are we of all the work that is
going on in the United States?
(Mr Hawtin) I will ask Mr Roper to give you some supporting
55. It is his neck on the block then, not yours?
(Mr Hawtin) No, no. I will start by putting my neck
on the block. I would never wish to say we had total visibility
of another country's activities but we do believe we are being
kept very closely informed by the Americans of what is going on,
that we have very close links and contacts with them, and we also
have various co-operative programmes and activities which Mr Roper
might like to expand upon.
(Mr Roper) We have an MOU with the United States on
ballistic missile defence signed in 1985, so we have been running
with that for 16 or 17 years. There are two main threads to that
agreement. It is an enabling agreement to allow for collaborative
exchanges of research and technology information in the ballistic
missile defence area, but it is not system specific. This is not
an agreement by which they share with us details of hardware they
are going to put into service. That is the first tenet of the
agreement. The second one is that it is an agreement that enables
the US to invest in UK industry as part of their own programmes.
A certain amount of money has been invested by the US in our industry
in ballistic missile defence. We have all sorts of exchanges with
them on generic technology and we have exchange scientists working
over there and exchange scientists of theirs working over here.
It is all generic.
(Mr Hawtin) More generally, the United States are
not keeping simply the United Kingdom but their NATO allies closely
briefed on what they are doing.
56. Sometimes you have the impression, whenever
a sensitive question is asked to a defence minister or foreign
minister, they throw their hands in the air and say, "We
have not had any request from the United States. We are awaiting
a request" and one has the impression they think they are
portraying the fact that we are rather distant from what the Americans
are thinking and doing and we are awaiting them conferring information
upon us on which we will be obliged to answer.
(Mr Hawtin) There are two distinct issues there. There
is the visibility and knowledge of what the Americans are doing
which we have just described. There is the separate issue of what
the Americans might ask for on which again we can go into detail,
but the factual position is they have not made a specific request.
57. What role do Fylingdales and Menwith Hill
play at the moment? We assume that they are able to track missile
warheads coming from the east towards America, but they are not
sophisticated enough to guide missile defence interceptors at
the moment. Although you have just said that the US have not asked
us to adapt these sites at all, from what you have seen of what
is going on, if there was an adaption requested, what would it
be and how long would it take for us to get into the changes?
(Mr Hawtin) There are a lot of questions there which
I am not, I am afraid, going to be able to give you precise answers
to but can I try and disentangle those? You started by asking
what the functions of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill are. Let me
start on that and Mr Roper may be able to give you more technical
information. Fylingdales provides the United Kingdom with early
warning of ballistic missile attack against the United Kingdom
and western Europe and the United States with early warning for
attacks on North America. That is the function that it has been
carrying out for very many years and it continues to carry out.
Menwith Hill is part of the worldwide defence communications network
of the United States Department of Defence and it provides intelligence
support for the United Kingdom, United States and NATO interests.
58. That covers what it does at the moment.
I did mention that it is not sophisticated enough to guide interceptors.
Is that true?
(Mr Hawtin) Yes. There is an upgrade programme for
the existing radar at Fylingdales.
(Mr Roper) It is the wrong term to say
that Fylingdales is not sophisticated enough to do that. Fylingdales
is a very sophisticated radar but the software does not currently
require it to track bodies. If the defence support satellites
spot a ballistic missile launch, it will cue Fylingdales
and other elements of BMEWS chain and they will look for the incoming
bodies and spot them. It will evaluate the trajectory and calculate
where it is going to land on the ground. That was all it was required
to do. Where is this incoming threat going to land, to enable
other things to happen? In doing that, clearly inside the guts
of the radar is all the information required to give you information
on tracking because in a ballistic missile defence role you do
not need to know just where it is going to land; you need to be
able to track it to enable an intercept to take place. All that
information is in the radar; it is just that the software is not
ready to use it. It is a bit like, if you have a PC at home and
you say, "Is my PC powerful enough to draw a coloured picture?"
It is. If you have only got Microsoft Word loaded, it will not
do it, so primarily we understand the upgrade to be a software
change, not a change to the radiative pattern of the radar, which
is very powerful.
59. If we wanted to upgrade it to what the United
States might want to do, it would be a fairly easy software package
upgrade, not a major change to X-band sensors?
(Mr Hawtin) We have not had a specific request and
we therefore do not have the precise details of what the United
States might want to ask for.
15 Note from Witness: It is more accurate to
say that this is relevant to the potential Fylingdale requirements. Back
Note from Witness: It is more accurate to say alert rather
than cue. The radar search pattern does not change following a
DSP warning, but the operators move to maximum alertness. Back