HC Deb 11 April 1989 vol 150 cc725-6
6. Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what anti-armour weapon systems are available to the British Army of the Rhine.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

The British Army of the Rhine has a balance of anti-armour systems which includes Challenger and Chieftain main battle tanks; Lynx helicopters armed with TOW missiles; Swingfire and Milan missiles; infantry anti-tank weapons; and mines.

Mr. Knight

Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the proposed cuts in Warsaw pact conventional forces. its capability for sudden, large-scale offensive operations remains strong? That being so, are not the British Government absolutely right in maintaining a mix of anti-armour weapons systems, including tanks and helicopters, to meet this ever-present threat?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend is right. It has long been a feature of the Warsaw pact forces that they have a large predominance of assault and rapid attack forces, particularly main battle tanks. My hon. Friend is right to say that our assessments conclude that the right way to counter tanks is with a balance of anti-armour weapons.

Mr. Duffy

Will the Minister confirm that there is concern in the British Army of the Rhine about its ability to defend itself against Warsaw pact tanks? Will he also confirm that there are even greater symmetries on both sides in anti-tank weapons than in tanks, and that there is an impressive improvement in Soviet tank technology? Does he agree that the answer may lie not so much in more weapons in any of the categories that he mentioned but in smarter ones? What is the present position on Trigat development?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that not only are the latest Soviet battle tanks highly capable, and have explosive-reactive armour, but there has been a pattern over the years of new and improved Soviet main battle tanks arriving at regular intervals. At the moment we assess that our current equipment can match the present threat, and we have invested in a number of improvements which are under way, including—as the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies—medium-range and long-range Trigat, which will play an important part in future anti-tank battle.

Sir Jim Spicer

Will my hon. Friend explain why both the United States and the German armed forces give a much higher priority to the use of helicopters in an anti-tank role than we do within our Rhine army?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend will be aware that we are currently assessing and keeping closely under review the role of the helicopter in anti-tank battle. Some of our NATO allies, for reasons of their own, decide to give more predominance to helicopters. This is an important subject and one that we are keeping closely under review.