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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 13:56 GMT


Millennium threat to UK defences

Trident: A millennium misfire has been ruled out

The millennium computer bug poses a real threat to the UK's defences and weapons systems, the government has warned.

However, Defence Secretary George Robertson insisted he was "satisfied that there is no computer failure, whether year 2000-induced or not, which could result in a nuclear accident or the accidental use of nuclear weapons."

He said tackling the bug, including problems it could cause with nuclear weapons, was the department's highest priority apart from operational activities.

Civil emergency

Mr Robertson added that the Ministry of Defence was ready to put troops on the street if the computer bug caused problems with other emergency services.

"We expect that any requirement for military assistance will become clearer in the New Year as the civil authorities complete their contingency planning," he said.

[ image: Bugged: The enemy's secret weapon?]
Bugged: The enemy's secret weapon?
"We will remain ready to assist wherever we can under the longstanding arrangements for providing military assistance."

He confirmed the MoD had put in place a £200m plan to tackle the year 2000 problem and said all computer systems would be millennium-compliant by the end of 1999.

The bug could potentially cause massive computer problems at the start of the new millennium because their clocks only read the last two years of the century.

Many systems could crash because they confuse the year 2000 with 1900.

'A real threat'

Mr Robertson said: "We are under no illusions about the urgency and importance of the year 2000 issue.

"Computers are essential to the operation of many of our weapon systems and are also used widely in our administrative systems.

[ image: George Robertson: No illusion about the urgency]
George Robertson: No illusion about the urgency
"The problem potentially poses a real threat to our capabilities. We have recognised this and have taken steps to address it and we have put in place a comprehensive programme to take remedial action."

On fears that the millennium bug could lead to a nuclear accident, Mr Robertson said: "The deterrent has been the subject to the most searching examination from a year 2000 perspective.

"In this context I would stress that public safety is a central aspect of the way we have approached the whole issue."

MoD denial

Mr Robertson's comments come only days after the MoD's computers were at risk of a millennium meltdown.

The Sunday Telegraph had claimed that nine out of 10 of the navy's computers were not protected against the bug.

A US defence official was quoted as saying: "If Saddam Hussein wanted to attack, 1 January 2000 would be the day to do it."

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