HC Deb 01 May 1968 vol 763 cc1095-6
30. Mr. Robert Howarth

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what protection against land-based aircraft will be afforded to naval helicopters operating from Her Majesty's ships in the Mediterranean after the last carrier has been scrapped.

The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. John Morris)

Weapons being developed for ships are mentioned in the Statement on the 1968 Defence Estimates (Cmnd. 3540, Chapter VI, paragraph 7). These include the Sea Dart medium range surface-to-air guided missile system and a close range self-defence surface-to-air guided weapon to be known as Sea Wolf. Both will improve the parent ship's defensive air umbrella against both missiles and aircraft. Fighter cover for the Fleet's helicopters may also be available from land bases both in the Mediterranean and other parts of the N.A.T.O. area.

Mr. Howarth

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am not entirely satisfied with that Answer? It seems to me that helicopters will be vulnerable to land-based aircraft when they are out of range of their parent ship. How will these helicopters be protected from land-based aircraft which could shoot them down pretty easily?

Mr. Morris

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern. But if he looks at the totality of the picture, over the short distance, protection would be afforded from the Sea Dart of the parent ship, and it is envisaged that helicopters will largely operate within that area of protection. In the longer range, as my hon. Friend has indicated this afternoon and on other occasions, there will be protection from land-based aircraft cover.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that the Government have made the helicopter the main anti-strike weapon of the Fleet in future, and is not the helicopter extremely vulnerable?

Mr. Morris

As I indicated, the hon. Gentleman should look at the totality of the picture: the rôle of the helicopter, the rôle of the land-based aircraft, and the rôle of the submarine.