Rome, 20th-21st April 1993

Official Record

Office of the Clerk of the Assembly of WEU




Wednesday, 21st April 1993


Conditions for a European anti-missile defence policy


Anti-missile defence for Europe an industrial perspective

Mr. BURNHAM (British Aerospace Defence, Ltd., United Kingdom).

British Aerospace Defence Ltd. is grateful for this opportunity to address the symposium.

Representatives of industry rarely have the opportunity to speak to an international gathering not only of fellow industrialists but also of politicians and their military and technical advisers. To make the best use of this opportunity this talk will consider a number of issues which are fairly clear, as issues, to industry but which need political decisions if they are to be resolved. Except for some of the more modern shorter-range ballistic missiles developed by the former Soviet Union, such missiles are not sufficiently accurate to be useful weapons, when fitted with conventional warheads, to be a means of neutralising military targets. There would be some effect on the functioning of a military target, if it were thought sufficiently likely that a chemical or biological warhead were fitted to the missile for precautions to be taken at each ballistic missile alert, since the precautions themselves reduce the efficiency of whatever activity is taking place at the military target. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see what, during a war for example somewhere in the Middle East, would be the military value to our adversary of attacking a military target for example in the United Kingdom. Paragraph 93 of the WEU report on anti-ballistic missile defence says "since a threat to civilians cannot be ruled out following experience in the Gulf war ...". I wish to draw attention to another experience; that of the 2600 ballistic missiles which landed in England in late 1944 and early 1945. The accuracy of their missiles was known to the sender. If any were aimed at a military target it cannot, I suggest, have been so aimed with any serious expectation that this target would be damaged. It thus appears that paragraph 93 may be a serious understatement; that the reality is not so much a matter of not ruling out the attack of civilians but that civilians, and so centres of population, may well be the primary targets, so far as future ballistic missile attack on Western Europe is concerned.

I raise this matter not from a desire to dissect the detail of the WEU report but because the size of the area which an ABM/ATBM is required to defend, its footprint in ABM/ATBM jargon, is a key issue in the system design. A system designed to protect a military target such as an airfield would not be a very efficient way of protecting a large city. It may in this regard also be useful to observe that the laws of physics imply that the larger the footprint of an ABM/ATBM system the closer would it come to the possibility of its deployment being regarded as in breach of the ABM treaty.

It also follows from the above that it seems unlikely that nations would invest in the development of an ABM/ATBM system unless this were capable of defending against missiles carrying chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. "Defending against" could be taken to mean that the damage to the defender is likely to be very much less than would be expected to result from a missile attack against which no defence were offered. A defensive system which killed the ballistic missile during the boost phase, a kind of defensive system which might be feasible at least in some circumstances even without the use of weapons in space, would thus be attractive in that the debris would land on the territory of the aggressor. Before anyone reaches a conclusion that boost phase kill is the most desirable solution, I would draw attention to two issues of an essentially political nature that arise in relation to it. First, that it may be more difficult to make useful boost phase kill systems which attack the ballistic missiles in later stages of their flight. Secondly, that, for boost phase kill to work, the decision would have to be made to attack something which the adversary had launched and the attack committed very quickly after launch, I speak of seconds not minutes, before the likely target of a ballistic missile could be deduced from its trajectory or indeed before it were known that the device which had been launched was a ballistic missile; it might, for example, be a meteorological rocket or a space launcher.

The WEU report on anti-ballistic missile defence rightly draws attention to the need for studies if Europe is to adequately determine the way ahead. There are two existing studies which should be mentioned in this regard. Both are taking place under the aegis of NATO. The first is essentially government activity, but with very active participation from European industry, being carried out by the NATO Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) and which reports in a formal sense to the NATO Conference of National Armaments Directors. Both are due to report around the end of this year. It is not appropriate for me to discuss these studies in detail. I mention them to register the fact that European industry is already working actively together, and with colleagues from the United States and Canada, on the topic of this symposium. These studies should provide a good foundation on which later work can be based. Also, when the results are examined, it may be found that the studies provide an indication of the willingness of the United States to share its experience and plans, in working detail, with its European partners. The United States has spent very much more than has Europe on research and technology for defence against ballistic missiles. It is therefore no surprise that the depth of knowledge and experience of United States industry in this area is greater than that of our own industry in Europe. This does not mean that European industry knows nothing. Work funded by its own governments, by the United States SDI programme and in some cases work which European companies have funded with their own money, has led to a good level of knowledge in most if not in all relevant areas. However, given the ratio of United States to European funding it should be no surprise that there are very few areas in which European companies are significantly ahead of those in the United States. History suggests that only when European companies have a significant technical lead are they likely to obtain work on United States national defence programmes. The current low level of European industrial involvement in the constituent programmes of the United States GPALS activity is thus what might be expected.

When governments collaborate on weapon development and production each government will usually insist that an amount of money roughly equal to its national contribution is spent in its own industry. This can usually be achieved even when a country enters a programme at a late stage of development. In that situation, however, there is clearly no way in which the country or its industry could be involved in the early key decisions. The possibility of obtaining work, at the edge of technology would be much reduced. An industry, sometimes even a government, may want high tech work for reasons of pride; it would be unlikely to seek high tech work if it were seeking to maximise profits in the shorter term. Industry is interested in high tech work mainly because, if it missed out on one generation of equipment, it would be very difficult to play a leading part in the next. Governments may have their own ideas about what it is they most want to achieve from their workshare; maximising employment is one possibility that comes to mind. In the end, the decisions which are important in determining the quantity and quality of national workshares in international projects are usually made by governments.

In situations in which a government is running a competition for a particular type of equipment among equipments which can be said to exist, the national industry can be relied on to make its own links. The recent United Kingdom MSAM competition is an example. What is new concerning ballistic missile defence is that within a given class there will almost certainly be only one existing product to buy. The choice will be between taking what the United States has on offer, or some agreed adaptation of it, and developing a system oneself or in collaboration with others. I note that the arguments in favour of a buy off the shelf policy usually assume that a reasonably even-handed competition is possible between at least two contenders. Industry can help governments in evaluating the options, but the difficult decisions on ballistic missile defence are almost all political decisions.