HC Deb 22 December 1954 vol 535 cc2749-51
34. Mr. Cooper-Key

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he will make a statement on the supply of Hunter and Swift fighter aircraft to the Royal Air Force.

36. Mr. Langford-Holt

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air if he is satisfied with the performance of the Swift swept-wing fighter now in squadron service with the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Ward

Although the initial delivery of Hunters was delayed, we now have substantial numbers of them. Three squadrons in Fighter Command have already received Hunters, and we shall issue the others to squadrons as fast as we can. A small number of the early marks of Swift have been delivered and used to equip one squadron, but acceptance of the later marks has been delayed by the need to solve aerodynamic problems. My noble Friend and I do not conceal our disappointment at the delays which have occurred.

Mr. Cooper-Key

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the performance of these Hunters now in service is at least up to the standard of the Sabres and MiGs that are in operation with their respective air forces?

Mr. Ward

As often happens, it is necessary to make a number of small modifications before the aircraft goes into squadron service, and these modifications are now being made. When they are done, I am quite certain that I can give my hon. Friend that full assurance.

Mr. Beswick

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the delay has been absolutely grotesque? Is it not a fact that in the original trials of these aircraft the manufacturers' test pilot made certain observations which were not passed on by the manufacturers to the Royal Air Force? Will he look into that aspect of affairs?

Mr. Ward

We are dealing with two different types of aircraft here. I do not know whether the hon. Member is referring to the Swift or to the Hunter. As regards the Hunter, in relation to the production programme to which we were working in March, 1953, deliveries of Hunters, which did fall badly behind at one time, have now largely caught up. The Swift is another story altogether, and there again we are dealing with more than one version. Originally the Swift was developed as a private venture by the manufacturers from a research aircraft commissioned by the Ministry of Supply. This research aircraft—the 535—was built to test some of the problems involved in the operational requirement issued in 1948 for an aircraft to replace the day fighters then in service.

It was thought in 1950, when production orders were placed for the Swift, that, with the Hunter, it would meet the needs of the Royal Air Force. Since then, more than one version of the original design has been built. Aerodynamically difficult problems have been encountered, and it is not yet possible to say whether all these difficulties can be overcome in all the versions which are now under development.

Mr. Callaghan

The hon. Gentleman says that one squadron only has so far been equipped with the Swift. What was the expectation in the programme?

Mr. Ward

One squadron only has so far been equipped, and I make no secret of the fact that that is way below what we expected.

Mr. Callaghan

What was expected?

Mr. Ward

That I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman, but what we have is below what we expected. However, this is not a tragic result. It is not a scandal. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have had considerable development difficulties.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is no new problem and that I urged the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) to do something about it, both in speeches on the Estimates and by Questions, some four years ago and that very little was done at that stage?

Mr. Speaker

We have spent a long time on this single Question. This seems to me to be much more suitable for a debate on the Estimates.