HC Deb 22 March 1999 vol 328 c12
10. Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

What assessment he has made of requirements for new aircraft to equip the joint carrier—borne air group. [75974]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

The new aircraft to equip the joint carrier-borne air group is known as the future carrier-borne aircraft. No decision has yet been made on the choice of aircraft to meet that requirement. A strong contender is a variant of the United States joint strike fighter. We are participating in the concept demonstration phase for that aircraft. We are also assessing a number of other options, including a navalised Eurofighter, Rafale-M, F18 and an advanced Harrier variant.

Mr. Colvin

I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he bear it in mind that the acquisition of aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities could considerably reduce the capital cost of the two aircraft carriers that the Government have promised to order, because such aircraft do not require the long flight-decks needed by conventional aircraft? Does he see an opening for the Harrier, with its STOVL capabilities, in a sale to the French—whose new aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, was at sea undergoing trials when it was discovered that her flight-deck was too short for conventional French aircraft to take off from?

Mr. Spellar

I would just correct the hon. Gentleman, who said that the Government have promised the aircraft carriers. We are accomplishing the stages, however, exactly on the time scale that we predicted, and I am sure that he will welcome that. Moreover, as I said in my answer, an advanced Harrier variant was one of the options being considered. He will understand the need to evaluate all the technical options, as those carriers will be considerably larger and much more capable than the current ones. We have to have consider all the options—including, as I said, not only the joint strike fighter, but others.