Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Mr Howarth

  60. But you must be talking to them?
  (Mr Hawtin) Yes. In terms of the Clinton administration, what we were expecting the United States might ask for at some point was an upgrading of the early warning radar at Fylingdales and use of Menwith Hill for missile defence purposes. That is what the Clinton administration were working towards. They did not pursue those plans before they left office and they did not make any request. We have no firm indication of what the Bush administration might want to do but it is certainly possible that they might ask for the upgrading of the early warning radar at Fylingdales at some point.

Syd Rapson

  61. If they were to do that, what would it mean? They would not just update the software package. If they wanted to move to X-band radar, what would it mean? A huge increase in physical structures?
  (Mr Hawtin) Two distinct issues there: the upgrade of the existing early warning radar is[17] of a software, internal kind. Let me ask Mr Roper to elaborate on that.

  (Mr Roper) Let me try and explain the difference between the UEWR upgrade at Fylingdales, were it to be asked for, and any suggestion of X-band radar. The plans Clinton had and a significant element of the Bush plan is for this large, ground based interceptor, able to intercept thousands of kilometres out but you do need to be able to see the threat early. If the US wants to defend itself against the Middle East, it would require a sensor somewhere in the north west European theatre. It does not have to be in Yorkshire; it does not have to be in the United Kingdom. Indeed, an upgrade to the Fylingdales radar, which is a UHF radar—the wave length is this long so it is firing slugs of radiation about this long.


  62. The average readers of our reports, which include the whole country, are desperately waiting to find this out. Could you say what "that" is?
  (Mr Roper) The Fylingdales radar operates in a frequency range we call UHF which is roughly the same frequency range that your television transmitter is sending. The wave length is a significant fraction of a metre, 0.7 of a metre. It can fire 30 of those slugs every second. Against a small number of simple threats, that is all you might need. An upgraded early warning radar could do the job against a small number of threats and a small number of intercepting missiles. Where you begin to think you need something better than Fylingdales is if you face larger or more sophisticated threats. First of all, if there are more bodies coming in, it is fairly inefficient to let the Fylingdales type radar do lots of searching, lots of classification of new threats and tracking the number of bodies in the sky to enable interception to take place. Again, the PC analogy. You can be typing in a Word programme whilst doing an extensive Excel calculation in the background and downloading a big file from the internet but try and do all those things together and you find your PC slows down. That will be the problem if you are facing a lot of things to do. A more efficient way of working under those circumstances is you have a dedicated fire control radar which can track lots of bodies very quickly and very accurately. X-band means a particular frequency band which is a number of gigahertz and the slugs of electromagnetic radiation it fires are five centimetres, a couple of inches. The sort of X-band that the US are thinking about not only fires five centimetre slugs but it can fire more than 10,000 of those a second rather than 30 a second. X-band comes into its own if the US begin to feel they are facing a much larger threat or if they are facing a more sophisticated threat and this is where counter measures come in. If we believe there is a threat where the missiles coming in are also deploying these light counter measures, UHF radar, depending on how sophisticated the counter measures are, might begin to struggle to spot the difference between a light body like a balloon or something and the real reentry body; whereas an X-band radar, which is much more accurate, can spot minute differences which enable the US to decide that it is not a real body and it will only engage that one. The X-band radar comes in much more downstream if the threat develops.
  (Mr Hawtin) As far as the Clinton administration was concerned, the X-band radar did not form part of their first phase of activities which involved the upgrading of the existing early warning radar. Any question of an X-band radar was way off. Likewise, under the Bush administration, it is way downstream.

Syd Rapson

  63. There is no question of X-band radar being requested for an upgrade, if it is way downstream? I am under the impression, having been to America, that they think this is a real threat. I think they convinced some of us that there is more of a threat than we thought before and they realise it is going to be a sophisticated, multi attack possibly, so they would need the best possible protection systems going and you are saying that we are quite happy to make do with what we have, rather than have the best that is available.
  (Mr Hawtin) You cannot have the best available at the outset. You need to go through a development programme. If we can look at this in terms of what we know of the Bush administration's activities at the moment and the possibility that in due course they may wish to acquire capabilities a more complex threat, what they are looking at, at the moment, in terms of emergency systems as they described it for the first term of the Bush administration, are the three activities that we have described: the use of the testing facilities in Alaska, the test of the airborne laser in 2003 and the possible use of seaborne systems. That is what they are focusing on as emergency measures in the short term, by which I mean, as we understand it, the first term of the administration. They are also looking at a wide range of activities going on into further stages, further activities possibly, but the short, factual answer is that they do not yet know what they are going to do or the precise sequence in which they are going to do it. At some point therefore, they might want to get into the issue of X-band radar if they wish to pursue defences against a more complex threat, but that is not, we believe, an early focus of their work.

  64. You have had discussions with them about the architecture required, if required, and we are involved to some extent. It is not just a matter of the Americans on a one way system saying, "We think we need this. Would you give it to us"? There is some interchange of what we would want as a country as well?
  (Mr Hawtin) Yes. We are pursuing with the Americans in the interests of understanding the potential requests that the United States might make. It is incumbent upon us to prepare for that, to understand what might happen and be prepared to provide the requisite advice should it happen. That applies in particular to the upgrading of the early warning radar at Fylingdales which, in terms of probability were it to happen, is nearer rather than further away. Equally, we are concerned to understand the technology that goes with an X-band radar, but on that as I think Mr Roper said in his remarks they have not decided they wish to proceed with that and, were they to do so, the locations of any X-band radars are again far from clear.

Mr Hancock

  65. If the Americans are going for the most sophisticated of technology, hitting the missile rather than exploding the missile near a missile, which I thought was the logical thing to do and probably cheaper, if you think you are going to be shot at with a sophisticated missile, if it is possible to have a multiheaded missile which on reentry disperses its warhead in various locations, surely the next step is that you separate in that in space stage the missile itself so you fire one but you bring back into entry phase three or four missiles, each carrying a warhead, which poses a real menace then to your technology because you then have an even shorter space in space to shoot it down. Where is the thinking on that, because if you are trying to make your defensive weapons so sophisticated the logical conclusion is that the people who want to hit you will make their missile equally as sophisticated and they will not want just to deter it; they will want to disperse it in space.
  (Mr Roper) I can answer the first question. I am not sure I understand the second one so we will park that for the moment. You commented that hit to kill looked to be a technological challenge. It is, but you did not think it was the right way to go. It is the right way to go. You are right. To hit an incoming reentry body perhaps a metre in diameter with a heavy weight requires great accuracy in terms of steering your missile and the guidance and sensing and tracking of the body coming in. On the other hand, if you try and use a warhead and explode it nearby—if you are talking about a conventional, explosive warhead, you might be able to triple or quadruple the inaccuracy in the steering of your missile—you are placing all the burden now on to fusing. You still have to sense when you are close enough to the body and then detonate. We are talking about a missile coming in at several kilometres a second, your missile flying out at several kilometres a second, less than a thousandth of a second difference in time and you have missed it; whereas when you hit it there is no fusing problem. That is why the Americans are going for hit to kill. The Russians, in the early days of the American programme, had nuclear warheads on and that is easy. That does work but there are separate problems about using nuclear weapons on defensive missiles. In the second part of your question, were you talking about developing multiple, independently targeted reentry vehicles?

  66. Yes.
  (Mr Roper) That is extremely difficult to do technologically.

  67. The Russians are trying to do it.
  (Mr Roper) The Russians have done it but for emergent threats to develop a MIRV capability is a real challenge.

Mr Howarth

  68. There is no suggestion that North Korea has a MIRV capability or are developing it?
  (Mr Roper) There is no evidence that I am aware of.

Mr Jones

  69. When we were in the United States we were being told the concentration of effort was looking at the threat from North Korea and I think the key emphasis there was Alaska, Greenland or possibly even putting things on floating platforms in the Pacific somewhere. What would be the purpose therefore in terms of wanting Fylingdales if the key threat they see is from North Korea?
  (Mr Hawtin) The immediate threat that they are seeking to protect against is indeed from North Korea. The role of Fylingdales is in respect to a threat from the Middle East.

  70. I appreciate that. In terms of the emphasis General Kadish put on, the key priority seems to be North Korea rather than the Middle East. Therefore, is it not a bit preemptive to suggest that necessarily top of their priorities is to want to upgrade or use Fylingdales?
  (Mr Hawtin) I am not suggesting that is top of their priorities. You have put your finger on a key point. If their concern is primarily at the moment North Korea then that does put Fylingdales into a slightly different context. I would caveat that by saying they are concerned about the emerging threat from states of concern as a whole and that includes the Middle East, so it is not a question of either/or; it is a question of an emerging threat and in that sense a spectrum of threats.

  71. The concentration is on interception and hit to kill in terms of mid-course. The station of any type of ground based system I presume would be on the west coast of America in terms of dealing with the North Korean threat. If that is the key priority, we are quite a way off getting a capability which will not only deal with its borders in terms of the west but also deal with the borders in terms of the Middle East as well.
  (Mr Hawtin) Yes.

  72. You are talking possibly how long?
  (Mr Hawtin) Potentially a very long time. This goes back to the basic point that the Americans under Bush are pursuing research and development, testing and evaluation across a wide range of activities. They are seeking to pick the winners and bin the losers. Exactly where that will end up, exactly what it will look like and in what timescale it is impossible for us to say.

  73. Therefore the actual arguments or emphasis being put on, for example, the political issues around Fylingdales are a bit academic, are they not? They are a long way off. Obviously, it is concentrating the minds of people focusing in terms of being against missile defence but in practical terms it is not a top political priority, is it?
  (Mr Hawtin) It is not for me to comment on the political priorities.

  74. It is not a technical priority for them.
  (Mr Hawtin) I would not see it as the top priority for them for the reasons we have outlined. What I must make clear—sorry if it sounds like a record stuck in a groove—is that we do not have foresight and advance knowledge of what the Americans might request.

  Mr Jones: It is the impartiality of the Civil Service that we have come to respect.


  75. You have been relatively forthcoming, as the circumstances permit, on Fylingdales but rather cautious, unless I have misheard you, on Menwith Hill which is for missile defence purposes. Can you say rather more in public or in private, preferably the former rather than the latter?
  (Mr Hawtin) The possible use of Menwith Hill relates to its role as what is called the European Relay Ground Station, which will be part of the US space based infra red system. I am sure Mr Roper can explain exactly what that means but basically there are existing satellites under the existing Defence Support Programme which are getting rather old but which in the past for example have given advance warning of Scud missile launches during the Gulf War. The Americans are in the process of upgrading that constellation of satellites with something called a space based infra red system and a new set of satellites, in layman's terms, the information from which in due course, when they are operational—and they are not yet—would be downloaded into Menwith Hill. That programme, SBIRS for short, is important in its own right in terms of the upgraded information of early warning. It is being handled by the Americans as entirely separate from missile defence, but if we go back to Clinton and the administration ideas there, there was certainly a suggestion that they might wish to integrate SBIRS with missile defence in some way and that, as a consequence, they might have requested the use of Menwith Hill as part of the missile defence arrangements in that context. I hope that is clear. If not, I can ask Mr Roper to expand.

  76. That might be helpful.
  (Mr Roper) The Defence Support Programme satellites currently detect ballistic missile launches by looking at their infra red signature. That cues the BMEWS radars[18] to look for them, pick them up and give the early warning. That is an early warning function. It is unrelated to missile defence at the moment. They are old; they are being replaced by something called SBIRS-High. That is a series of geostationary satellites that will look in the infra red; a bit more sophisticated than just spotting the launch on the ground, the signature of the infra red emissions will be used to classify the launches and again cue the BMRS systems[19]. That is all quite separate from missile defence. That will be of immense value if the US were developing a missile defence system just like the defence support programme satellites now could be used for missile defence.

  77. The Americans are obviously working on the architecture for both of these establishments which I presume, from what you said, we have some idea of. Do we have any influence on the architecture? Will they say at some stage, "Fine. Activate plan A and plan B that you have pretty well been told about" and will we be able to say that we have helped in some way to shape the concept or the architecture which will be added to in the north of England?
  (Mr Hawtin) On the SBIRS facilities at Menwith Hill—I emphasise again that SBIRS is distinct from missile defence being handled separately—the government have already given permission to install the relay ground station at Menwith Hill and the necessarily facilities have been constructed. They are not yet operational. Were at any point the Americans to wish to use those SBIRS facilities for missile defence purposes, they would need to request approval for that from Her Majesty's Government.

  Chairman: It is clear before we produce our final report we will have to visit both sites and this will not be, as far as our Committee is concerned, the end of the day. We have some more questions from Mr Crausby. Perhaps we can bring you back in at some stage to elicit further information.

Mr Crausby

  78. The Americans have certainly given me the impression that they are absolutely determined to press ahead with missile defence with or without cooperation and support from outside so I wondered in what way they might develop the programme that would require them not to use Fylingdales or Menwith Hill. Is it possible without Fylingdales or Menwith Hill?
  (Mr Roper) Having explained how the ground based interception system works, there is no doubt that for it to work defending the US against threats from the Middle East the Americans do require the UHF type radar in north west Europe. Since Fylingdales is there and because it is fully capable of doing the job and has all the power to do it, that would be a very attractive option in terms of cost and everything. Clearly they could look elsewhere in north west Europe to put certain sites. Menwith Hill has already, as I understand it, been earmarked as the European ground station of SBIRS-High and SBIRS-High is nothing to do with missile defence. If they are going to go ahead with missile defence they will want to use SBIRS-High. The thought that at this late stage they would look to place the European ground station elsewhere, given that that investment is already made, looks a bit remote.

  79. They must have considered that it is a possibility that we would not just automatically agree to anything that they wanted. What alternative sites are there in north west Europe and how feasible is it for them to deliver that facility from a ship or a drilling platform? Have they discussed that with you?
  (Mr Hawtin) We have difficulty answering these questions definitively—what other options are there for the Americans—because essentially they are doing the research, developing, testing and evaluation. It is for them to say where that has got to and where it might lead. In terms of ships, you raise an interesting question. One of the areas the Americans are indeed looking at is whether it is feasible to put an X-band radar on a ship rather than on land. I do not know where that research is going to end up but it is another possible avenue of approach. In many ways, putting it at sea has attractions compared with sites, wherever they are, in north west Europe or elsewhere.

17   Note from Witness: The upgrade would be of a software, internal kind not is. Back

18   Note from Witness: It would be more accurate to say alerts the BMEWS radar operators. Back

19   Note from Winess: It would be more accurate to say alerts the BMEWS radar operators. Back

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