By JOE GARCIA, PANORAMAdailyGIBRALTAR:
NATO has urged Britain to install a missile system in Gibraltar. Further, Gibraltar has been described as being 'an excellent base for high-tech weapons' and studies have been carried into 'electronic warfare and infra-red equipment.'
This secret plan, which we now reveal, was two-fold: It was to increase the military capability on the Rock itself and also in the Strait of Gibraltar. It urged, among other things, the installation of surface to surface missiles and modern early warning radars.
But Britain rejected the plan in recent years on grounds of cost. It is not known if it has been implemented in part.
In fact, in the last two decades, NATO has rapped Britain for refusing to "develop plans for the improvement of surface and sub-surface control of the Gibraltar Strait, and air, surface and sub-surface defence of the military facilities at Gibraltar," according to secret NATO posturings on the military importance of Gibraltar and the Strait.
The secret plans would have cost Britain an initial £30 million with an additional £4 million annually being poured into the Gibraltar econonmy.
While rejecting the project mainly on grounds of cost, Britain has been carrying out certain low cost improvements to the surface surveillance facilities. Studies have also been carried out on the use of electronic warfare and infra-red identification equipment, but it is not clear what has been the end result.
"Considered in isolation, the geographical position of Gibraltar provides an excellent base for the employment of technologically advanced weapons and equipments such as remotely controlled minefields, active and passive surveillance equipment operating above, and below, the surface together with their associated weapon systems," concludes a secret military study marked 'for UK eyes' only.
It is known that NATO has expressed concern in the past about the potential mining threat to the Strait of Gibraltar and the need forcounter measures.
Gibraltar's sub-commands in a NATO context went with the reorganisation of Third-level commands in the wake of Spanish entry. Gibraltar is therefore not a NATO base as such, but remains a UK National base.
However, whatever the facilities in place in peacetime, it is Gibraltar's strategic position on the Strait that provides it with a unique dominating influence.
Alternatives to Gibraltar are Cadiz and Cartagena. Both have large naval facilities and nearby airfields, and while regarded as suitable as bases for operations, "neither have the commanding position combined with the necessary facilities which enable Gibraltar to exercise domination over the Strait," the military say.
The position of Gibraltar in a military context is the subject of review every 5 years or so. The latest report in our possession by the UK Chiefs of Defence Staff says that the combination of harbours and airfield facilities "together with the natural surveillance and defence advantages provided by the Rock itself make Gibraltar the most strategically important position in the Strait."
"In wartime," the report adds,"Gibraltar could provide a secure base for assembling convoys, and the airfield could be used for not only operating anti-submarine warfare helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft but also as a forward operating base for fixed wing aircraft countering the air and surface threat to NATO maritime forces."
A study for the Directors of UK Defence Policy says: "The Mediterranean is critically important: for the member nations of the southern region of NATO it provides common access and vital lines of communication for supplies and reinforcements...Furthermore on its shores are several actual or potential crisis areas which could have serious effects on East-West relations and world peace."
It adds: "Thus control of the western end of the Mediterranean, the ability to seal off events in that area from the Atlantic, and surveillance of a critical part of one of the world's strategic routes rests with whoever commands the Strait. Dominating the Strait lies Gibraltar."