HC Deb 20 March 1968 vol 761 cc392-3
9. Mr. Robert Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when the Royal Navy will have in service a surface-to-surface guided missile capable of matching those known to be possessed by other navies.

24. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the development of surface-to-surface and submarine-to-surface missiles for the Royal Navy.

The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. Roy Mason)

As was made clear in the Adjournment debate on 13th November last year and in the debates about the Royal Navy last week, we are not planning to provide the Fleet with any surface-to-surface guided weapon in the sense of a missile fired directly from ships. Instead we shall arm the helicopters—which will be carried by all ships of frigate size and above—with an air-to-surface missile. This will have a sufficient stand-off capability to give the helicopter substantial immunity from the sort of anti-aircraft weapons carried in patrol boats, and the helicopter will be able to deliver it over a much greater range than that of the patrol boats' anti-ship missiles. Defence against missile-firing destroyers will be provided by shore-based aircraft and Fleet submarines.

As regards submarine-to-surface missiles, the Statement on the 1968 Defence Estimates (Cmnd. 3540, Chapter VI, paragraph 11) indicates that studies are in hand to improve the effectiveness of submarine-launched anti-ship missiles.

Mr. Howarth

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the phasing in of these new weapons systems will coincide with or precede the phasing out of the aircraft carriers?

Mr. Mason

In the time scale envisaged, we should by that time have some modern shore-based aircraft. We should have the light strike capability of the helicopters with their light missiles, and we should have the nuclear submarines with an increased strike capability, especially with the new torpedoes likely to come into production.

Mr. Wall

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what surface-to-surface capability the Sea Dart will have, and when does he expect the submarine-to-surface missiles to be in service, provided that everything goes well with the studies?

Mr. Mason

On the first point, this is an anti-aircraft anti-missile missile and has a useful secondary capability of ship-to-ship. I cannot disclose details about its range and so forth. The anti-ship submarine-launched study is in its early stages, and I could not give the time scale.

Mr. Powell

Does not that reply disclose that there will be great difficulty in dealing with missile-firing destroyers and larger capital ships out of range of shore-based aircraft?

Mr. Mason

Not with the increasing effectiveness of the nuclear submarine force.