UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon has signalled that the UK is likely to support any request from Washington DC to use facilities in northern England as part of the US missile defence programme.

Speaking at the London-based Foreign Policy Centre last week, Hoon said: "Developing the capacity to defend against the threat of ballistic missile attack is in the interest of the UK, just as much as it is in the interest of the USA."

The Ministry of Defence says Hoon is opening the missile defence debate in the UK ahead of any possible request from the USA, particularly because recent US tests have been successful.

UK facilities that could have a missile defence role include the RAF Fylingdales ballistic-missile early warning radar station and the Men with Hill intelligence collection station, both in Yorkshire.

Hoon says: "The USA has not yet decided whether they need to use bases in the UK for this architecture. They have not asked us for such use, but clearly they may do so. We need therefore to consider the security issues that would arise.

"Not least among these is whether, and how, any UK involvement and participation in their developing systems will affect the security of the UK and of Europe."

Hoon adds that the UK government agrees that ballistic missiles pose a serious threat and that proliferation is a concern.

Although the MoD says there are no immediate plans for a UK missile defence system, Hoon says that, as the threat grows, "we [may] need to decide to add a further capability to our current range of responses by acquiring missile defences for the UK and for Europe as a whole".

Source: Flight International