HC Deb 04 December 1990 vol 182 cc160-1
4. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many of the development European fighter aircraft are now under construction; and when he expects the completed prototype to undertake its first flight.

Mr. Alan Clark

All eight of the development European fighter aircraft are now under construction. The first prototype is due to fly in late spring 1992 in Germany.

Mr. Cran

Does my hon. Friend agree that, by the late 1990s, the European fighter aircraft will be a vital replacement for the Phantom aircraft, which will be obsolete by then? In view of that fact, and in view of the recurrent rumours that we hear about the German Government's position, can my hon. Friend give us a categorical assurance that the aircraft will, indeed, reach the production stage?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The aircraft should ensure our air superiority in the late 1990s and in the early part of the next century. My hon. Friend cited the Phantom as an example, but the EFA will be superior to all existing fighter aircraft, including American F-18 and F-15 enhancements. I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks: the British Government are fully behind the project and intend to see it completed.

Mr. Cryer

But is not the EFA project a collaborative project, which depends on other countries' participation? Instead of depending wholly on defence contracts of this nature, which are extremely costly—at £7 billion in this case—would not it be prudent for the Government to develop civilian aircraft prototypes so that we can participate in the developments in civil aircraft? Otherwise, if the project fails, thousands of people—including highly skilled technicians—may be thrown on the dole as a result of the Government's lack of awareness.

Mr. Clark

In principle, what the hon. Gentleman says is indisputable, but, unfortunately, there is very little civil demand for a single-seater aircraft with the speed of Mach 2.

Mr. Page

Is my hon. Friend happy that the major elements that make up the European fighter aircraft have been developed satisfactorily and as far as is possible in the experimental stage before being incorporated in the main contract? Will he confirm that the plane has an expectancy of service well into the year 2000 and beyond?

Mr. Clark

I can certainly confirm that. Component development and testing are part of the development phase, to which all the participants have now signed up.