HC Deb 02 December 1980 vol 995 c113
4. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any proposals for expanding the air-to-air refuelling capacity of the Royal Air Force.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

Work is in hand on the conversion of nine VC10 aircraft into air-to-air refuelling tankers, to supplement the RAF's Victor K2 tanker force.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Does my hon. Friend agree that in-flight refuelling could play an important role in strengthening the capacity of our air defence squadrons in the event of conflict? In those circumstances, what proposal, if any, does he have for modifying the new British Airways Boeing 737 aircraft to become tankers in an emergency?

Mr. Pattie

As my hon. Friend says, the idea of a force multiplier by air-to-air refuelling is very important. It is one of the options that we are considering, as is its further refinement—the creation of a formal RAF reserve to carry out this role.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Although air-to-air refuelling is an essential factor in the RAF's capability, when does the Minister expect to be able to implement the decision by the Royal Air Force Board to increase by 50 the air defence fighters that cover the United Kingdom so that, in conjunction with the air-to-air refuelling tankers, they might give effective cover to Britain?

Mr. Pattie

If the hon. Gentleman refreshes his memory he will recall that the board decided that there was a need for that but did not take that decision.

Mr. Nelson

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the range and loiter capability of the Tornado F2, in particular in defending out northern approaches? Could not both capabilities be considerably enhanced, at minimal cost, if the Boeing 737s, in their civil capacity, had the basic equipment so that fuel pods could be added later, again at minimal cost?

Mr. Pattie

Yes. I am satisfied with the forecast operating capability of the Tornado F2, although the operating range would be much enhanced, as would the time on station, if there wore an air-to-air refuelling capability of the type described by my hon. Friend.