§ 11.6 a.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government which aircraft in service with or due to enter service with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force it is proposed to replace by the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft.]
§ THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE FOR THE ROYAL AIR FORCE (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, I cannot really add much to what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in another place about the use of the variable geometry aircraft when he announced the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the French Government, which I also repeated in this House. Both Governments are convinced that there will be a wide variety of uses for aircraft with variable geometry in the middle and late 1970s. In this period it is likely that we shall have to withdraw, or begin to withdraw, from service the Buccaneer, the Lightning and the Phantom, and we are satisfied that versions of the variable geometry aircraft now under study are likely to be suitable replacements for some, or possibly all, of these types.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his reply, which I assume was intended to be helpful. May I make it clear in passing that I strongly favour Anglo-French co-operation in this field? Indeed, I favour co-operation on a wider European basis. But may I take it from the reply that the noble Lord can at least confirm that the Royal Air Force will have a requirement in the later 1970s for a long-range high performance reconnaissance 586 and strike aircraft? He mentioned the Buccaneer, the Lightning and the Phantom. He did not mention a replacement or anything about the Royal Air Force's strike requirement.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
I do not think that the noble Earl is right in thinking that this particular aircraft (I am unadvised on this matter) will in fact have the capacity for long-range strike reconnaissance, but it is early days yet. It is likely to be a very much smaller aircraft than the F.111 or the TSR 2. That is perhaps as far as I can take it. If I can help the noble Earl more I will. Certainly it is my view, which has been clearly stated, that pending the outcome of the Defence review it is difficult to contemplate any situation in which the Royal Air Force will not need a long-range strike reconnaissance.
It is the position, therefore, that if the noble Lord does not succeed in getting for the Royal Air Force the F.111 or an equivalent aeroplane, if there is such an aircraft, then the R.A.F. in the 1970s will be without a long-range strike and reconnaissance aircraft?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
If the R.A.F. does not have such an aircraft it will be true to say that it does not have such an aircraft, but I think that we are getting a little away from the original Question.