Smart missiles to replace RAF's cluster bombs

Richard Norton-Taylor

Tuesday July 25, 2000

The RAF is to invest in "smart" weapons to replace the cluster bombs used in the Kosovo war, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, announced yesterday.

In a statement to the Commons which left unanswered many questions about the inadequacy of defence equipment, he told MPs that the government would equip the RAF's Harrier jets with the more accurate US Maverick missile.

All-weather satellite-guided weapons would be fitted to Tornados to replace "dumb" bombs, whose use was limited in the Kosovo war because of cloud cover. However, the ministry has yet to decide whether the replacement will be a British or US weapon.

It is unclear whether the MoD still intends to buy a new British-designed bomb, codenamed Brimstone, which is nearly 10 years late and on which the ministry has spent more than £600m in development costs.

A ministry spokesman said yesterday that Brimstone was designed to attack "mass armoured targets".

Unexploded "bomblets" from cluster weapons dropped from British and US aircraft have subsequently killed a number of people in Kosovo, including two British soldiers, and maimed others.

The new bombs, and a more secure air-to-air communication system, will be paid for out of a one-off £200m the ministry extracted from the Treasury this year.

The ministry has already announced that it will spend £80m modifying 200,000 of the army's standard SA80 rifles and machine guns.

It was disclosed yesterday that Brigadier Seymour Monro, the most senior infantry officer, had demanded the immediate replacement of the light machine gun version of the SA80 after criticism of its performance in Kosovo; he asked that units serving in Kosovo should be given a new gun as an "urgent operational requirement".

Ever since the 1991 Gulf war, soldiers have complained of the SA80's tendency to jam and the constant need to reload. The army would like to replace the gun with belt-fed weapons of the kind used by the US army as well as the SAS.

Mr Hoon yesterday also confirmed that, despite strong opposition from government scientists, the bulk of ministry's defence evaluation and research agency would be privatised.

The ministry has been promised £250m from the proceeds, with the Treasury taking the rest of the profit from the sale.

Some 9,000 scientists will work for a new private company, with about 3,000 retained in a ministry-owned rump that will include the chemical and biological research establishment at Porton Down.

The split is designed to appease the US, which is concerned about passing secret research to a private company.

The ministry yesterday conceded that military research scientists in the US remained concerned, though it said the US government was satisfied with the new arrangement.

Original article