HC Deb 24 May 1977 vol 932 cc1163-4
1. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he intends to purchase airborne early warning aircraft to operate from HMS "Invincible".

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

No, Sir.

Mr. Tebbit

Then is "Invincible" to be left to operate only within the range of shore-based aircraft, or is it intended that it should operate at times without any airborne early warning and thus be virtually defenceless?

Mr. Mulley

No. On the second point, HMS "Invincible" will have a substantial defence capability of her own, but as the hon. Gentleman knows, the plan that I hope will be fulfilled will be for NATO to arrive at a collective airborne early warning system, which will cover the whole area of the Alliance.

Mr. Newens

Can my right hon. Friend give any estimate of the cost of going ahead with the project proposed by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)? Is there not a very pressing need at present to seek to contain public expenditure on all these matters?

Mr. Mulley

I think that it is impossible to give any figures for short takeoff and landing airborne early warning systems because the sophistication of such systems, as we have seen with the AWACS and Nimrod, requires a large aircraft, and it would be impossible for a large aircraft to take off from HMS "Invincible". I accept the need to contain public expenditure, as I have already explained many times, but at the same time I think it important to retain our contribution to the Alliance.

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