UK to spend £30m on 'Star Wars' defence

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Geoff Hoon has been accused of "hiding" a multi-million-pound research programme into "Star Wars" missile defence weapons for Britain. The Ministry of Defence is to spend £30m on a joint research programme with the US without telling MPs.

Bernard Jenkin, the Tories' defence spokesman, said the Defence Secretary's failure to explain the extent of Britain's involvement in the US ballistic missile defence programme was "outrageous".

Mr Jenkin is to press Mr Hoon to reveal the MoD's outlay. "I'm not surprised the Government wants to hide the full extent of its involvement in this project. It's typical of the two-faced way in which it operates," he said.

Mr Hoon and MoD officials have repeatedly side-stepped MPs' questions on the expenditure. They implied that the MoD's Missile Defence Centre, set up in July, would merely help British arms companies win research contracts and exchange information.

But the MoD now admits it plans to spend £5m a year until 2009 on its own research on missile defence systems. The MoD projects are being overseen by Mr Hoon's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, who will also co-chair the steering committee running the joint UK-US programme.

The extent of Britain's missile defence policy was revealed by a document leaked to the British American Security Information Council, a think-tank in London.