HC Deb 08 November 1967 vol 753 cc1014-5
17. Mr. Hamling

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what further plans he will make to equip surface vessels of the Royal Navy with ship-to-ship missiles; and whether he will make a statement.

20. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to speed up the provision of surface-to-surface guided missiles for British warships.

61. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his policy with regard to the provision of ship-to-ship missiles.

Mr. Mason

As I explained to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on 25th October, the Royal Navy's surface-to-surface capability in the 1970s will be based on helicopter-launched guided missiles which will be provided in every ship from frigate upwards. We are introducing the AS.12 air-to-surface missile next year, and before the aircraft carriers phase out this will have been replaced by an even more effective helicopter-launched missile. These weapons will be fully effective against lightly defended surface targets such as the missile-firing patrol boats which sank the "Eilat"; by using helicopters to deliver them, we can both outrange the enemy missiles and achieve a flexibility of operation which would be impossible with a ship-launched system.—[Vol. 751, c. 1729–31.]

Mr. Hamling

Would my hon. Friend not agree that helicopters are very vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire? Are there no other weapons systems which he could devise?

Mr. Mason

But this will give us the flexibility and the cost-effectiveness which we require, and the "eyes" which the Navy wants, and we shall be able to operate far more effectively than with the ship-to-ship capability well beyond the horizon with helicopter-borne missiles.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Did not the decision to phase out aircraft carriers make the case very much stronger for these missiles? Is it not highly questionable whether the helicopter will do the job properly?

Mr. Mason

I would remind the House that I said last week that Seaslug Mk.II has a secondary capability of ship-to-ship and that Sea Dart, which is now coming into production, is primarily a ship-to-air missile, but also has a secondary ship-to-ship capability.

Mr. Cronin

To allay public anxiety partly over this matter, will my hon. Friend confirm that there are also effective electronic counter-measures for ship-to-ship missiles?

Mr. Mason

Yes, Sir, and I know that my hon. Friend is fully conversant with them.

Mr. Hogg

Can the hon. Gentleman give the present operability of helicopters at night or in a thick mist?

Mr. Mason

Not without a good deal of lecturing to the House, Sir.