HC Deb 15 February 1965 vol 706 cc827-9
17. Sir J. Eden

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the performance of the aircraft and defence systems which are likely to oppose the Royal Air Force over the next ten years; and whether he is satisfied that transonic or subsonic aircraft will provide a reasonable guarantee of operational success in this period.

Mr. Healey

There are continuous studies of the various forms of threat and defence, as they form an essential prerequisite to determining future requirements of weapons systems. These requirements and the timing of their introduction will vary from theatre to theatre and from rôle to rôle. In some cases transonic and subsonic aircraft will be adequate: in others supersonic aircraft will be needed.

Sir J. Eden

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that already wherever our airmen have to serve in likely combat areas they have to meet the possibility of a threat from enemy supersonic aircraft? In these circumstances, can he give the House an assurance that in any future Hunter replacement, or Kestrel replacement, he will seriously consider supersonic vertical take-off capabilities?

Mr. Healey

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the arguments which I myself was putting in the House last Tuesday. It is a fact that in several theatres our pilots have to make do with subsonic aircraft when possible opponents are already flying five-year-old Soviet Mig 21s, which are supersonic. That, of course, is the major reason why the present Government found it necessary to equip our forces in time with the Phantom aircraft.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Would the right hon. Gentleman now answer the Question, namely, having scrubbed the supersonic vertical take-off and substituted a subsonic version, what plans does he have for the future? Is he going to say that for all time, for all foreseeable time, the Royal Air Force has to be satisfied with only the subsonic version, or will he do as I have asked and at least keep in being a research project on the more advanced supersonic type? Will he answer that Question?

Mr. Healey

Yes. Of course, I will answer that Question. In the first place, we intend ourselves to develop the existing Kestrel aircraft in certain respects so as to improve its pay-load and range. We are now in discussion with several foreign Governments, notably the French, German and American Governments, with a view to developing a next generation vertical take-off aircraft with a vastly improved performance.

Mr. A. Royle

Could the right hon. Gentleman inform the House what plans he has for increasing the number of P1127s? Has he any plans for placing another order, a larger order, than the present nine, which are undergoing investigation in the joint squadron with the Germans and Americans? Is he planning to order more of these aircraft?

Mr. Healey

Of course I plan to order more P1127s. I regret that the previous Government did not do so in time. If they had, as was pointed out by the Chairman of Hawker Siddeley the other day, the P1127 would be an operational aircraft in squadron service now.

Mr. Shinwell

Could my right hon. Friend explain, for the information of both sides of the House, the reasons why we were unable to produce a supersonic aircraft?

Mr. Healey

We have a supersonic aircraft now in the Lightning; but as to the reasons why we do not have more of them, I am afraid that for answers to those questions my right hon. Friend must request the information from the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft).