HC Deb 29 October 2001 vol 373 cc619-20
8. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

What progress has been made to improve tactical communications for the armed forces in the last 12 months. [8356]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

Significant progress has been made in improving our tactical communications capabilities over the last 12 months. In March, a contract was placed for delivery next year of a new secure deployable communications system called Cormorant, which will improve the capability of the joint rapid reaction force to co-ordinate sea, land and air operations in operational theatres. Since then, we have also fitted NATO-compatible secure radios to aircraft to improve their effectiveness and interoperability with allies.

A contract for the Bowman secure radio for both voice and data was let on schedule last month and this programme is on track to start delivery in 2004. In addition, we are about to deliver a new communications system to the Royal Navy to improve operations with the small sea boats used for enforcing embargoes in the Gulf.

Jane Griffiths

My hon. Friend will know of my disappointment and that of my constituents at the fact that many of them lost their jobs as a result of the Bowman contract not being awarded to Thales. However, as the personal role radio was split from the Bowman contract, will he let me know what progress has been made in supplying those radios to operational forces—in particular, to the Royal Marines?

Dr. Moonie

We have trialled personal role radios with the Royal Marines on Exercise Saif Sareea 2 in Oman. All the feedback—both from maintainers and operators—has been highly positive and we look forward to the full delivery of personal role radios by March 2002.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Now that the Bowman combat radio contract has been let, will the Minister assure me that the in-service date of early 2004 will be maintained?

Dr. Moonie

So far I am happy to say that the programme is well within the specified time. I certainly hope to meet that date.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

Does the Secretary of State agree that aerial surveillance is one of the most important forms of intelligence for all the armed forces? I join my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) in sending my condolences to the family of the young member of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Friday night's incident disgusted the people of Northern Ireland, and if it was carried out by loyalist terrorists we remain disgusted by it.

Does the Secretary of State realise that our community—the law-abiding community—is worried that the Weston Park objective, to cease using helicopters except for training purposes, will seriously jeopardise intelligence gathering in places such as north Belfast? It is only by helicopter surveillance that we will prevent dreadful incidents like the one in north Belfast from happening again.

Dr. Moonie

We have absolutely no worries about the security or value of our intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East)

I met Royal Marines last week in Oman who were using the new personal radio and they spoke highly of it. Does not that compare favourably with the spectacular failure of the tactical communications programme under the previous Government?

Dr. Moonie

My hon. Friend will be well aware that I am rarely dilatory in claiming successes for smart procurement. I am happy to say that so far the procurement of personal radios and procurement under the Bowman contract appear to be well on target, which is exactly the result that we predicted that smart procurement would have.