It follows recent predictions that a missile-armed Third World country could pose a direct threat to Britain within 10 years, as a result of which the Ministry of Defence commissioned a pounds 5m study into ballistic missile defences (BMD) for Britain.
The British computer modelling system is called the UK Extended Air Defence Test Bed (UKEADTB) and can be used to model attack by aircraft, cruise or ballistic missiles.
It has been developed by Data Sciences, a computer company based in Farnborough, Hants, at a cost of about pounds 3m. Much of the funding has come from the US through an Anglo-American ballistic missile defence cooperation agreement, set up in the eighties as part of Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" plan - the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The system is mainly designed as a tool to develop a British BMD system but is expected to be of great interest to other European countries - notably France, Germany and Italy - perhaps as part of a joint European BMD network.
Southern France and Italy already face a direct ballistic missile threat - they are within range of current ballistic missiles which could be fired from unstable regions in North Africa. Military planners in France and Italy feel they need to develop BMD even more urgently than Britain, where the direct threat is still some years away.
The simulator will be crucial to developing any anti-missile defence system for Britain or for British forces deployed overseas. It can model the trajectory of any known missile, creating a 3-D picture of what air- , sea- and land-based radars would see, and thus help develop ways of shooting down the attacking missiles before they get close enough to do significant damage with nuclear, chemical, biological or high explosive warheads.
It is the most sophisticated system of its kind that has ever been produced, and has involved 40 man-years of work and half a million lines of code.
The modelling system shows four pictures on the screen, as reproduced right. At the top left is either a plain map or a side view of the missile trajectory and targets. The top right shows predicted impact points or areas against a detailed map background. At the bottom left is a prediction of what the incoming missile is, and at the bottom right a prediction of the point of impact combined with more details of the missile derived from the various sensors.
"If a ballistic missile threat emerges in the near future, the MoD would have to respond very quickly," said John Palfreyman, a spokesman for Data Sciences. "The test bed enables them to conduct extensive research into the potential impact of such a threat and the most appropriate measures to combat it. Experience in the Gulf War emphasized the need for Ballistic Missile Defence and the UKEADTB represents the most advanced generation of modelling technology developed to date anywhere in the world."
For decades, military strategists believed that ballistic missiles "will always get through" - a similar view to that held about bombers during the thirties. Therefore, the only defence was the threat of retaliation: in the thirties, through Bomber Command; in the nuclear age, through "nuclear deterrence".
The "Star Wars" initiative envisaged shooting down incoming missiles, but studies indicated that it would prove impossibly expensive to defend against a vast onslaught.
However, the end of the Cold War brought a different threat - a small number of missiles launched by a third world potentate or a "rogue" general in the former Soviet Union, perhaps. And, as the success of Patriot anti- missiles against Iraqi Scuds during the Gulf War showed, such missiles could be intercepted.
Since the end of the Cold War, concern about a threat from Third World countries armed with missiles has grown. It is argued that unstable Third World dictatorships may not be responsive to "deterrence", and by 1990 US officials were arguing that 15 states already had ballistic missiles and another 20 were trying to acquire them. By 2000, it was estimated, 24 states would have ballistic missiles and six would have them with ranges up to 1800 miles.
More recently British MoD sources predicted there could be a threat to these islands from missile-armed Third World countries within 10 years. When the proliferation of long range missiles was combined with the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the breakdown of international norms of behaviour, the case for Ballistic Missile Defence began to look persuasive. It has since become arguably the most important subject of progress in defence technology, although defence against low flying cruise missiles has also been heavily emphasized - last week the US Department of Defence allocated substantial sums for research into anti-cruise missile defence.Reuse content