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[] Janes 6.7.01: Menwith Hill: the real role -

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06 July 2001 
Menwith Hill: the British satellite station's real role

By Paul Beaver

Protesters broke into a British satellite downlink station earlier this week in the belief that it is linked with President George W Bush's proposed National Missile Defense Program. The facts are a little different, however. 

RAF Menwith Hill actually houses the European Relay Ground Station that will form part of the part of the US Space Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS). The SBIRS project is a passive system designed to detect the launch of ballistic missiles by detecting the exhaust plumes on launch. The satellite picture is then used to cue ground-based tracking radars to detect and track the missiles.

SBIRS is composed of two tiers: the high-altitude system is developed by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman; the low-altitude system will be developed after a competition between TRW teamed with Raytheon and Northrop Grumman teamed with Spectrum Astro. The combined constellation will replace an existing but ageing infra-red detection system called the Defense Support Program, which was used during the Gulf War to detect 'Scud' and Al Hussein launches from Iraq. 

The RAF Menwith Hill facility is necessary irrespective of any decision by the USA to proceed with a missile defence system. It is also associated with the targeting of the UK's Trident 2D5 submarine-based ballistic missiles.

RAF Menwith Hill is British Crown property made available to US Visiting Forces under the 1951 NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

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