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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Concern over 'supergun' tests
test shell firing at Dundrennan
The firing range at Dundrennan has been controversial in the past
Efforts to block trials of an American "supergun" in south west Scotland are being stepped up amid concerns over its impact on the local community.

The UK Government has renewed a contract with the US military for use of the Dundrennan firing range near Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway.

It is thought the contract will allow an electromagnetic launcher to be tested at full power.

Green MSP Chris Ballance wants First Minister Jack McConnell to ask the Ministry of Defence to halt trials until a local consultation can take place.

The South of Scotland MSP also wants the issue to be debated at Holyrood, even though the issue of defence is reserved to Westminster.

Angus Robertson MP, the Scottish National Party foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, has also promised to raise the trials in the Commons.

In the dark

The supergun will reportedly be able to launch a shell at 7,500mph and destroy a tank more than five miles away.

Opposition politicians claim the UK Government has kept the public in the dark over plans for the weapon.

However, the Ministry of Defence insisted the project was simply "continuing research".

It said the tests had been public knowledge since the US began testing electromagnetic launcher technology at Dundrennan in the early 1990s.

The site has long been the scene of protests by campaigners angry that thousands of depleted uranium (DU) tipped shells have been test fired from the range into the Solway Firth, despite official denials that this damages the environment.

This appears to be a new phase of testing, with new equipment, and it is entirely right and proper that, in a democracy, the public should be given as much information as is possible
SNP MP Angus Robertson

Mr Ballance said: "There are grave concerns that Scotland is an experimental test site for American weapons.

"I think it is outrageous that the whole deal has been done and signed without anybody being informed of it, much less consulted about it beforehand."

Mr Robertson said there were "long-standing concerns" over the use of depleted uranium shells in the Solway Firth.

He pledged to seek details about the current testing arrangements during the next defence debate at Westminster.

Launcher system

"This appears to be a new phase of testing, with new equipment, and it is entirely right and proper that, in a democracy, the public should be given as much information as is possible," the SNP MP said.

Dumfries and Galloway Council has published parts of a letter from the MoD which the authority received after asking for an "update" on the trials.

The letter to the council refers to the MoD's "long-standing project agreement" with the US Army for the joint development and testing of electromagnetic launcher system technology.

"This agreement has resulted in sustained investment in the electro-magnetic launch facility at Kirkcudbright (Dundrennan), and a programme of testing dating back to 1993," its reads.

Inquiry into uranium weapons
14 Mar 02  |  Scotland
DU shell test-firing resumes
21 Feb 01  |  Scotland
Scots fear ill wind
20 Feb 01  |  Scotland
Dundrennan: Under friendly fire
20 Feb 01  |  Scotland

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