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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Analysis: Britain and US missile defence
The operation centre at Fylingdales early warning station
The operation centre at Fylingdales early warning station could play a key role
By Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The British Government shares some of the scepticism of its European partners towards the US Administration's proposals for limited defences against missile attack.

The National Missile Defence (NMD) and Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) systems are aimed at defending the US against in-coming missiles.

Despite doubts, if the programme goes ahead then Britain could nonetheless find itself playing an important supporting role.

Two US military installations in Yorkshire in the northern part of England; Fylingdales and Menwith Hill could be critical to the missile defence systems's success.

Fylingdales on the North Yorkshire Moors was opened in 1962 as part of the US Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.
Greenpeace protest
Opposition outside the US is widespread
Its golf-ball shaped radomes were a familiar local landmark and its radars would need to be upgraded to form part of the new missile defence scheme.

Initial upgrades might just involve software improvements, though an expanded version of the US defence system would probably require the construction of a new X-band radar at the base.

Fylingdales would provide vital mid-course tracking data on any incoming missile which would be used to cue other radars, based in the United States that would help guide an interceptor missile to the target.

Menwith Hill is a communications centre, pulling down information from satellites and forwarding it to command centres in the United States.

It too would play a key role in any missile defence system in which the rapid transmission of data is a critical element for success.

Opposition

Anti-nuclear groups like Greenpeace and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have begun to mobilise support in Britain against the use of these facilities for missile defence.

Some critics of the system say that the use of bases in the UK will increase Britain's potential vulnerability to attack - it would be seen as an accomplice of the US while not being covered by its defensive screen.

Indeed, this is a view that is widely shared in Europe where many experts believe that a US defence system - while it may or may not lead to greater security for the US - will certainly lead to less security for Europe.

The British Government refuses to be drawn on whether or not it would allow US bases here to be used for this purpose, though it is almost inconceivable that it would deny its closest ally such facilities.

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See also:

07 Jul 00 | Americas
Countdown to missile test
07 Jul 00 | Americas
Critics round on US missile plan
09 Jun 00 | Europe
Rift over Star Wars
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