HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc540-1
2. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

What is the estimated interval between the entry into operational squadron service with the Royal Air Force of the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and its equipping with beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. [55878]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

Eurofighter will enter service armed with the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile—AMRAAM—AIM-120B as its beyond visual range air-to-air missile. A competition is being run for the development and production of a next-generation beyond visual range air-to-air missile, but that will not enter service until a few years after Eurofighter.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is no hiatus between the entry into service of Eurofighter and its equipping with a genuine beyond visual range air-to-air missile, such as that provided by Raytheon, the American competitor, or by Meteor, the European solution? If an interval is caused by Treasury parsimony or a German defence review, can it be filled by an extended range version of AMRAAM, so that the Royal Air Force squadrons do not suffer a lack of capability?

Mr. Robertson

Obviously, we would not want any gap in capability, but it has long been recognised that there will be a gap between the first delivery of Eurofighter in 2002 and the BVRAAM currently being examined. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one bid, but there are two, and each is being assessed in the normal way. The implications of using one system rather than the other will be examined carefully. We intend to maximise the value of Eurofighter when it comes into service, and its weaponry is therefore of acute importance.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is some sense of a stitch-up over BVRAAM, and that it is suggested that political expediency, rather than strategic merit, is governing his Department's thinking? Will he assure competing bidders that their competing merits will be the sole criterion in determining the BVRAAM programme?

Mr. Robertson

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. There is no question of a stitch-up. Two bids have been made, and they will be assessed in the normal way. The only criterion that matters is the equipping of the Eurofighter with the best possible weaponry.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

Notwithstanding the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), he will acknowledge that the final bids are between a British BVRAAM and an American BVRAAM. Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, if the Ministry of Defence decided in favour of the American product, it would be possible for the United States of America to block the sale of the Eurofighter—the Typhoon—to third countries under certain circumstances, and that that would be damaging to British industrial and security interests?

Mr. Robertson

I wish to make it clear that one bid is European, from Matra BAe, and the other is American. We are assessing both bids using the usual criteria. We hope to announce the outcome of the competition in 1999. All the factors mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and the previous questioners will be taken into account.

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