MoD looks to America for new missiles

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THE MINISTRY of Defence is assessing two advanced US weapon systems to fill gaps in its armoury as America and Britain scramble to replenish after the Balkan conflict. The American arms industry is set for a multi- billion-dollar bonanza, part of a shift towards higher defence spending after a long post-Cold War lull.

The Kosovo conflict cost the US and the rest of Nato up to $4bn, says the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment in Washington. Cruise missiles alone cost the Defense Department $630m, and it spent $670m on other munitions. All must be replaced.

America is about to approve an emergency funding package to replenish its stocks and, although there are doubts over the efficacy of the American- led air offensive, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are looking at new American precision-guided missiles.

Britain fired sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles for the first time in the Balkans, and apparently used most of a consignment of 30 it had just received. The Navy had first test-fired the missiles only months before. Britain has already advanced the purchase of the second tranche of 30 in its initial purchase of 65, and requested permission from America to buy 30 more from Raytheon, the US defence giant.

But the MoD is also looking at its next round of arms deals. By 2002, the US is planning a new generation of cruise missiles nicknamed the Tactical Tomahawk, and Britain is also considering buying these. The Tactical Tomahawk, lkely to be deployed with the US fleet in 2003, is to be cheaper,faster and more accurate than the current generation. By that time most of Britain's nuclear submarine fleet will have been reconfigured to fire Tomahawks, and Britain will want hundreds.

Britain has also asked the Pentagon for details of the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), which is a way of enhancing existing "dumb" bombs and missiles to turn them into "smart" precision-guided weapons. The US used JDAMs for the first time in the Balkans, and they proved highly accurate.

The post-Kosovo boom could mean an extra $2bn for the arms manufacturers. A bill pending in Congress would provide an extra $1.8bn for new munitions, most of which would be split between Boeing and Raytheon for air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles.

America has fired more than 600 sea-launched cruise missiles, says The Boston Globe, including 220 in Yugoslavia, 330 on Iraq last year, and 80 in Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the African embassy bombings.

The Defense Department gave Boeing $41.3m in April to convert 95 nuclear- tipped air-launched cruise missiles to conventional ones, and it wants to convert more. It asked Raytheon to upgrade 624 older Tomahawk missiles, and the Pentagon has also asked the company to accelerate the initial production of Tactical Tomahawks, says Jane's Defence Weekly. America plans to increase defence spending by 14 per cent in the next five years.

Boeing's share price has increased by 30 per cent since the beginning of May, and Raytheon's by 20 per cent. The Dow Jones industrial average has risen 10 per cent in the same period.