HC Deb 01 May 1968 vol 763 cc1091-2
19. Captain W. Elliot

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what study has been made of the operation of vertical take-off aircraft from ships of the Royal Navy; what trials are due to take place; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Foley

Trials carried out in H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and in H.M.S. "Bulwark" have shown that the aircraft carriers and the commando ships would be capable of operating vertical take-off aircraft. No further trials are planned.

Captain Elliot

Has the Minister considered pressing on with these trials in other types of ship? Would he not agree that in future years the Navy will be bereft of its own air cover and that therefore the area in which it operates will be greatly diminished?

Mr. Foley

The question of air cover from aircraft carriers and from the shore is a matter which has already been answered. The hon. and gallant Member must be aware that proposals to go fully into this whole field would be expensive, would involve setting up a force of aircraft and support facilities. In terms of the rôle of the Navy in Europe, in the Mediterranean largely, this can be met by land-based aircraft.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would it not be wise for maximum flexibility in future to carry on with these trials, particularly with converted Tiger class cruisers and also Commando class carriers, because the more we know about this technique the better, and the more flexibility for our Forces?

Mr. Foley

Trials which have already taken place demonstrate what is possible. What one can say is that they would not be effective for military operation at this stage. Clearly, we are interested, and we shall follow closely this development of V.T.O.L. aircraft.

Mr. Cronin

In view of the vulnerability of helicopters to attacks from fixed-wing aircraft and the possibility that ships of the Royal Navy will be employed operationally in oceanic rôles, away from land-based cover, will my hon. Friend pursue this matter further?

Mr. Foley

I think my hon. Friend will find there is a further Question on the Paper relating to this matter.