HL Deb 09 May 1977 vol 383 cc126-50

8.5 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of the recent controversial television documentary on the Tornado military aircraft, whether they will confirm that the aircraft will meet the operational requirements of the Royal Air Force: and whether they will reaffirm their confidence in and support for the programme. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I feel somewhat hesitant to test the long patience of the House and speak for the second time today, but my defence is that the subject is so far removed from the weighty meat of the Patents Bill that perhaps this short debate on Tornado could be considered more as a savoury course to complete the digestion of the business of the day.

The purpose of my Question is twofold. The first is to give the Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in particular, an opportunity to state their views on the contents of the highly critical documentary film about Tornado shown recently, I think on 18th April, on television. Secondly, I would seek from the noble Lord a little further information on the progress of Tornado, of its two versions which are about to go into service with the Royal Air Force.

Many of your Lordships will have seen the programme on television which set off such a barrage of protests from the industry and, indeed, from tit Royal Air Force. If the programme editor deliberately set out to achieve a controversial "knocking job" of the aircraft and the industry he certainly appeared to do a thundering good job. From the transcript of the programme which I have seen, the message, I think, was very clear. It was that the British taxpayer was subsidising the aircraft Industry, and indeed the European aerospace industry, at an immense cost, and had been doing so for many years on this project; that at the end of perhaps a 15-year programme it will produce an obsolete aircraft barely better than the TSR 2, cancelled some 15 years ago, perhaps on a par with the F.111, cancelled some nine years ago at considerable cost to the taxpayer, inferior to the American F.14 and F.15, and certainly inferior to the Russian Foxbat.

Few of us would ever claim, and certainly I would not, that we could ever technically judge the merits of one particular military aircraft or another. Indeed, if anyone goes to either the Farnborough Air Show or the Paris Air Show, I am sure he will be excused if he confesses that many of the military aircraft all look the same, except the Harrier, which, of course, is the finest air show performer ever produced. But I hope that very few of those who saw the documentary film will accept that message. I do not think it was at all surprising to find that the industry, and indeed the Royal Air Force, took a very hostile view of that programme.

The industry claim that the programme took some time to gather its evidence, a matter of months, and took a number of interviews from various members of the industry. I believe the managing director of Panavia was interviewed for over an hour and yet not one second of his interview was shown on the programme. The director of flight operations was also interviewed for a considerable time, and he was allowed five seconds of what was a 25-minute programme. I may add that the five seconds did include the comment "Rubbish!" in answer to a detailed criticism of the design and performance of the aircraft, and perhaps, in fairness to the editor, he thought that that was sufficiently earthy comment to counter the apparent attack on the project.

The Government, of course, are not responsible for the content or accuracy of any television programme, and I am not suggesting tonight that they should be. But when a recently retired commander-in-chief of Strike Command writes letters to the Press saying that in his view the effect of the programme was harmful to the Service morale, misleading to the public, damaging to the European aerospace industry and harmful to potential overseas sales, I hope that the noble Lord will take this opportunity to deplore the whole tone of that programme and, indeed, what I consider to be a thoroughly irresponsible programme.

We owe a great deal to the serving men and women in the Royal Air Force; we owe a great deal to the British aerospace industry and we hope, in future, the European aerospace industry. The contribution in terms of exports for the British industry is quite exceptional. Indeed, I think that the potential looks exceptional when one reads what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said recently when taking up his new post. He anticipates that over 5,000 military aircraft will be exported by Britain between 1980 and 1990, of which 3,000 will go to NATO—and that figure does not include deliveries to the Royal Air Force or to the United States. Figures of that sort did not appear in the documentary film.

I am told that by next year Tornado will represent some 36,000 British jobs and some 70,000 to 80,000 jobs in Europe. However, perhaps where the producer of the documentary film may find common ground for criticism with the advocates of Tornado is in almost—and I regret to say this—the paranoid obsession that the Ministry of Defence has for concealing facts on military projects. Apparently, many of these facts have no real relevance to the strategic policies of the Ministry of Defence. I am told that it is just a traditional secret that the Ministry does not disclose these figures.

In particular, I refer to the refusal to give the total costs of military projects. Of course, the Ministry of Defence is at a unique disadvantage over Tornado because apparently our German and Italian partners do not have the same policy. Therefore, we get the ridiculous situation where a Member in another place asks the British Government for certain information on costs only to find that he is refused; and yet he can discover the same information in Europe when wearing another hat as a member of the Western European Union. I particularly ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, to consider and perhaps comment tonight, if he can, on this unsatisfactory position, because cost is a not unimportant question with open government. When costs are used to knock the British industry in favour of buying an American aircraft, perhaps it would be helpful to note that the cost of an American aircraft is one of the worst arguments the pro-American lobby can use.

I turn briefly and specifically to some of the Tornada programmes of development. Can the noble Lord say what stage Tornado has reached as regard its Mach speed during its development?


My Lords, would the noble Lord be so kind as to repeat that question?

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I am not sure that I worded it very clearly. I was asking the noble Lord whether he could advise us tonight of the Mach speed which the prototype Tornado has now accomplished. There has been a good deal of comment on the RB.199 engine, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some helpful information.

I should also like to ask him about the weapons system or, more particularly, what is known as the Store Management System. We all know that the British are using the Marconi Elliot system and the Germans and Italians the American Base 10 system. The simple question, particularly for a NATO exercise, is that if a British Tornado should land on a German airfield, will there be, not only compatibility of the system, but an inter-changeability as well?

Finally, I should like to ask the noble Lord what is perhaps the most important question for the future of Tornado and, indeed, for the exports of our industry; namely, what indications have there been of interest in export sales? I believe that there have been some indications, and I hope that the noble Lord will comment on that.

Undoubtedly, as a joint European aerospace programme the Tornado represents the most important programme yet achieved by the European aerospace industry. I should like to pay tribute to all those who have been involved in the collaboration—it cannot have been easy—among the three industries. I hope very much, and I am sure that the House hopes, that it will be a forerunner of future programmes for the European aerospace industry. I should like to take this opportunity to thank those noble Lords who have indicated that they will speak, as I shall be unable to thank them later.

8.17 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House is very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, For raising this rather controversial Question this evening. I should like to add a little further controversy to it. First, the "World In Action" programme, which, as has been said, was televised on 18th April, without a shadow of doubt denigrated the Tornado. It was biased and unbalanced. Through its distortion and ill-informed criticism it tried to persuade the public that Tornado was too expensive, too late and also unable to carry out its assigned operational roles.

Perhaps it was due to the quest for sensationalism that Granada did not inform the taxpayer of the readily available facts about Tornado, and as a result it gave an entirely false picture. The public have a right to know about large expenditure on defence projects, but the media have a moral responsibility to represent the facts impartially and accurately. In this case, in my humble opinion, the media failed lamentably. The Royal Air Force say that they were not consulted, although I believe that ITV says that they were. To the best of my knowledge, neither of the other two air forces were consulted. However, even if the RAF had been consulted, there was no serving officer or anyone from the Ministry of Defence in the programme. Ex-chief test pilot of BAC, "Roly" Beaumont, who is now director of flight operations Panavia, was not—I repeat, net—given an adequate opportunity to comment on the alleged problems that were highlighted. Although he was interviewed—and here I disagree with the noble Earl—for 45 minutes before the programme, he appeared live only on three brief occasions, for a total period of just under one minute. But, either way, the noble Earl and I would not argue over those small points.

However, perhaps because of this controversial programme good will result and the right publicity will be given to Tornado. The programme also agreed that Tornado was capable of performing its low level strike, interdiction and reconnaissance rôles, yet at the same time it alleged that its Terrain Following Radar was no good. It also said that the Russians will pick it up on their early airborne warning systems.

My Lords, the TFR does work efficiently and Tornado can avoid chimneys and masts and suchlike. We must also remember that just because an aircraft is picked up on radar by the enemy it does not necessarily mean that that aircraft will be destroyed. Tornado, with its avionic equipment for protecting it in a hostile air environment, and with its low level tactics, makes it an extremely elusive and difficult target. Let us remember the Israeli air force in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The Israelis lost 1.1 per cent. of their aircraft on this particular type of mission against the most heavily defended environment yet experienced in modern warfare. In fact, the Israelis lost only 100 aircraft and not 400 as Granada stated.

The United Kingdom's requirement for an air defence role is for an aircraft with an ability to patrol at long distances from our coast and destroy enemy bombers at all heights, and further, ideally, outside the effective range of the enemy's standoff air-to-air missiles: in other words, an interceptor rather than an air combat fighter. The interceptor therefore needs an economical cruise at high altitude; an advanced airborne and intercept radar; complementary air-to-air missiles; and lastly, for the optimum success of the mission, a two-man crew. There are really only two possible alternatives to Tornado. One is the American F.14, which is twice as expensive; and second is the F.15, which is a single seater; it has inferior avionics and has a less economical high cruise performance. While on the subject of weapons like Skyflash, over costs I again think that the programme was not very fair to that missile.

Granada also claimed that the RAF and Italy would not be able to drop weapons for four years. But the weapons clearance trials which are currently in hand use a development stores management system, as the noble Earl mentioned, and there is no reason, so I am given to understand, to suppose that standard production equipment will not be embodied in the first aircraft that is delivered. I admit that the Germans have opted for a different system, but compatibility will be preserved. Cockpit panels and layout will be identical, and interface between aircraft weapons will be virtually common.

The alleged excessive "spillage" drag from engine intakes, which would impair Tornado's performance at high angles of incidence in the transonic speed range, was refuted by Mr. Beaumont during the recording of the programme, and then when the programme was shown it was edited out. From wind tunnel and flight tests, results have shown no evidence of excessive airframe drag, and the indications all point to the fact that Tornado will meet its stipulated maximum speeds, and subsonic performance will even exceed the specification requirements. Therefore, it is very sad, as well as unfortunate, that ITV should have had two Americans, one of whom incidentally I know, trying to convince a British audience that their money was being wasted. And while on costs, which naturally have increased with exchange rates and inflation, Granada said that the research and development costs on the air defence variant had increased by 35 per cent. I have been given to understand that it is about 12½ per cent. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, could confirm that when he replies.

The noble Earl's Question asked whether Tornado will meet RAF requirements. I have been informed of the following information, and I am hopeful that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to confirm it and probably even enlarge on it. Tornado will be the core of the RAF from 1980 until at least the year 2000. It will replace five different types of aircraft, which will reduce the costs of training, the numbers of personnel, and logistics. It has already done 1,000 hours of development flying. It has exceeded Mach 1.9, will shortly go Mach 2, and later will reach its full specification of Mach 2.2. Shortly an additional order is going to be given for the next 110 aircraft for the three air forces.

For the first time ever the United Kingdom will have a real night and all-weather capability aircraft, due entirely to its avionics and in particular to its low level navigation system. It will have the most advanced electronic countermeasure pods, both active and passive, to foil enemy defences. Its weapon maximum delivery area is very small, and its weapons naturally will include guns, bombs, rockets and the most advanced missiles such as Skyflash, which incidentally has an outstanding British designed homing head, and which gives a super performance even with severe electronic interference from the enemy.

At 30,000 feet the Tornado can detect and destroy an enemy aircraft flying at 250 feet, 25 to 30 miles away, through British radar and an advanced missile. In other words we have a winner, in spite of what the critics say. Let us not forget that once upon a time we had critics of the Hurricane and the Spitfire. So it seems that the RAF are convinced that Tornado will do its air defence role, its offensive support role, and its reconnaissance role outstandingly well. The Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Neil Cameron, said about two days ago that he hoped this information would go not only to the Warsaw Pact countries but also to the "knockers" in the United Kingdom who, for some extraordinary reason, try and damage the morale of our Servicemen as well as the talented and able British and European aerospace industry.

8.27 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kimberley is certainly an excellent public relations man for the British aerospace industry—not for the first time this afternoon; although if I may say so, he is not quite such a good advocate of the independence of the British Press and television, which I should have thought was of equal, if not greater, importance. I am afraid that I must disagree with my noble friend in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in initiating a debate such as this, because I think that as soon as you start to bring pressure to bear on newspapers or television for the way in which they have chosen to present their programmes you are starting down an extremely slippery path of which neither my noble friend or the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, would very much like to see the bottom.

Therefore, I think we should he extremely careful in what we say about the way in which producers and journalists have discharged their task. By all means let us contradict them if they say things that are wrong. My noble friend Lord Kimberley said that this programme was biassed, unbalanced, and gave an extremely false picture, although I did not hear from him very many specific examples of the charges which he levelled against the programme. For instance, he said they were quite right in pointing out that the aircraft concerned would be capable of carrying out its low level strike role. There is no argument among any of us in that respect. So just what is it that the noble Earl and my noble friend did not like about the programme? I suggest that it was in fact its tone and, as my noble friend said, but as he probably knows was not true, the fact that it appeared at one stage that the RAF had not been consulted.

Certainly that claim was made in a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Air Commodore P. B. Hine, who said he was very surprised to read a statement by Mr. Brian Lapping that the Ministry of Defence had refused to allow an RAF spokesman to be interviewed because, said Air Commodore Hine, no approach had been made by Mr. Lapping to him or to any member of his staff so far as he could ascertain, and no person in the Defence Public Relations staff received an approach from the producer of this programme. All I can say is that there is a conflict of evidence. I am assured by Mr. Lapping that an approach was made and that he had written a letter to the Daily Telegraph for publication, from which he has kindly given me permission to quote. The letter was sent by hand on 5th May, and I dare say that owing to pressure of space in the correspondence columns of the Daily Telegraph it was not possible to publish it before today's debate.

In his letter, Mr. Lapping informed the newspaper that he examined the notebook of a "World in Action" team member and telephoned Air Commodore Hine's office in January. A note written by a journalist at the time shows that Air Commodore Hine's telephone extension was sought but that he was not available at the time and a deputy took the call. Three requests were made, and while I am sorry to go into this detail I do so because it adds verisimilitude to the story about an approach being made. The three requests were that they wanted an interview, they wished to film a NATO war or maps table and they wanted to know whether a copy of the TSR 2 aircraft was still in existence.

The person who took the call, and whose name has been given in confidence by Mr. Lapping to Air Commodore Hine, said he would ring back as soon as he had the answers to the questions. He rang back the following day saying that the requests for the interview and for a film to be taken of the maps table had been refused; and, so far as the TSR 2 was concerned, he told the journalist that on the day after the cancellation of the project all the aircraft had been destroyed with blow torches, although one fuselage could still be seen at an RAF station.

My noble friend will I think agree that there is ample evidence to show that an approach was made to the RAF. Perhaps it should have been followed up and further telephone calls made at a higher level. At any rate, Mr. Lapping thought he had done his duty by making that approach to Air Commodore Hine and that it was the end of the story when he received that refusal from the deputy. So much for that part of the argument.

Undeniably, far less information is given to us—here I agree with Lord Kinnoull—than is available to the general public in Germany and to members of the Bundestag in particular, and I suggest therefore that it is not possible to reach any firm conclusions about the roles and capability of this aircraft. In the RAF it is wanted for two perfectly distinct kinds of mission; it is wanted for deep strikes behind enemy lines to isolate the battlefield from reinforcements and the same variant is used for strikes against enemy shipping, and then later on we need the ADV, the air defence variant, for defending the United Kingdom against enemy bombers.

In regard to the first of those roles, the programme carried some remarks by Mr. Richard Burt who thinks that the Warsaw Pact forces are designed to win what is called a short war; that is, their forces will all be in the front line; that they will attempt to occupy the maximum possible amount of space in Western Europe within the shortest space of time; that therefore, in order that NATO should counteract this threat, we in turn need to concentrate our fire power on the battlefield, and that it is a waste of time spending a great deal of money trying to isolate the battlefield from the reinforcements, which will not be necessary if this is the strategy of the Warsaw Pact.

Obviously that is a matter we can argue about at some length, but at the end of the programme there was mention of the development in the United States of the tactical cruise missile; and there was an interesting article in The Scientific American a couple of months ago discussing whether tactical cruise missiles could be excluded from the SALT Agreement. The author concluded that that would be possible because tactical cruise missiles used turbo-jet engines, whereas the strategic cruise missile used by-pass engines. The temperature of the exhaust being different in the two variants, it was suggested it would be possible in a future SALT Agreement to exclude the strategic version while retaining the tactical one.

These cruise missiles are capable of hitting a target several hundred miles away with a radius of probable error of about 30 feet. They are extremely cheap —several dozen cost the price of one MRCA—and it may well be that in the time scale about which my noble friend was speaking, the 1980s or 1990s, the Americans will have deployed weapons of this kind, and manned strike aircraft will have become obsolete. I am simply saying that that is a point of view to which one's thoughts might have been led by consideration of the remarks of Mr. Richard Burt in the programme. However much one may disagree with him, I think my noble friend will at least agree that it was legitimate for the remarks to be allowed to be expressed on a television programme.

When we turn to the air defence role, it is not disputed that the planes have to be specially modified to meet this particular British requirement. Nobody knows what the additional cost will be, which is one of the points Lord Kinnoull made; it might be 35 per cent. on top of the basic MRCA cost that we are paying, including of course the development of the stand-off missile, the Skyflash, which my noble friend mentioned. No doubt this is a great British achievement, and I was glad to read in Flight International of 9th April that the missile was already in quantity production; that the first deliveries were supposed to be taking place in April; that the missile would become operational later in 1977; that initially it was being used to arm the Phantom and that from the mid-1980s onwards it would be used for the Tornado ADV.

The experts tell us that we must not compare the ADV with an air superiority weapon system such as the F15. The witness, Air Vice-Marshall Nicolls, appearing before the Expenditure Committee on 26th April 1976, when asked the question: How do you rank it "— that is, the ADV— as a combat fighter? replied: It is not as good as the F15 in that respect. But, then, we are told that the aircraft is not for the same rôle, and that the reason we need Skyflash to be developed alongside the ADV is that the missile will be released at a distance of some 25 to 30 miles from the target and will not need to engage in dog fights with enemy fighters. If, as we have discovered, this missile can be fitted to the Phantom—and is indeed going operational with the Phantom this year—why should we not continue to use the Phantom in the ADV rôle, prolonging its life into the 1980s and saving a great deal of money?

If one looked at the programme one saw that the total lifetime costs measured in the way the Germans do it—including the spares, the fuel consumed during its operational life and so on —were calculated by Granada at no less than £7 billion, a figure I have not heard from either of the two noble Lords who are criticising the programme. That is indeed a very large sum of money, and it is only right that, as the Select Committee said in its Second Report in the Session 1975–76: This should be extremely carefully examined before such enormous sums are committed. The letter from Air Chief Marshal Sir Denis Smallwood in the Daily Telegraph of 22nd April said that since the date of that report the chairman of the Committee, Sir Harwood Harrison, had been reassured by evidence given to this same Committee. Certainly, evidence was again given to the Committee and I have just quoted from it, but I do not think that the Air Chief Marshal has grounds for saying that the Committee or Sir Harwood himself were reassured because no report was made from the second evidence taken. The minutes of evidence were published and, at the conclusion of the hearing, the two witnesses both said that they had had recent experience of flying in Phantom aircraft—and this was a complete non sequitur to me—and that the result of having flown in the Phantom had convinced them that the ADV would be necessary in the 1980s. Sir Harwood, the chairman of the Committee, said that he was extremely reassured to hear that they had had this recent experience and that they were confident that the ADV would fit the requirements of the Royal Air Force in the 1980s. But that was certainly not a view which he was expressing on behalf of the Committee. I took it that, in the context, it was a kind of polite noise which the chairman of a Select Committee normally makes at the conclusion of a hearing, and I believe that the inference drawn from it in the letter in the Daily Telegraph was wholly misleading and wrong.

I hope that, having had this debate, we shall at least think more carefully about committing ourselves to very large sums of money on aircraft than we have normally done in the past. The history of the development of military aircraft in this country since the war has not been a happy one and I should not like to see very large sums of money committed to an aircraft which, when it is delivered in the 1980s, will turn out to be obsolete. I can only suggest that we should take the advice of Granada and think a little more carefully before this programme becomes irrevocable.

8.44 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in the discussions within the Liberal Party but, if asked to form an opinion upon which view I prefer, I should say it was that of the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. The matter raised by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull tonight is of very considerable importance and the House and, I believe, the Government will be grateful to the noble Earl for having raised it.

There are three principal points which are raised by the Question. The first is the accuracy of the allegations made in the recent television programme to which the Question referred. The second is the question whether we should challenge the right of broadcasters or journalists to make these assertions, and the third is the question whether it is right in general for the Press, television or, for that matter, Members of your Lordships' House to parade deficiencies or shortcomings, real or imagined, in major weapons systems such as the Tornado.

I shall deal first with the accuracy of the principal assertions made in the programme. The complaints of the producers seem to me to he somewhat confused and, in some cases, contradictory, but I shall deal with them as best I can. I do not propose to deal with the criticism relating to the presentation of the programme because I have to confess that I did not in fact see the programme. However, Granada Television have provided me with a script which was very helpful and would have been even more so had not one of the critical pages been left out.

First, it was said that we could have had 600 TSR2s for the price of 200 Tornadoes. This was the inference from the words of Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris who is (or was) a gallant and distinguished RAF officer but who has, I believe, been retired for some five years. But that was never the choice before us, because we were not able to afford 600 TSR2s at the time when they were available and we should not now be able to afford the lesser number of Tornadoes that we are planning to secure if it were not for the fact that the MRCA, as it was originally called, is a collaborative venture. There was never any possibility of securing European cooperation in the TSR2 programme because that aircraft was designed specifically for British requirements and would not have performed any of the roles required by the Germans or Italians, even at inordinate expense. I believe that the principal criticism of Sir Christopher's contribution to the programme was his failure to appreciate that, with major programmes such as this, it is very often collaboration or nothing. Thus, the aircraft must be designed to be acceptable to all the partners in the project. I rather fear that Sir Christopher was the victim of highly selective or even distorted editing rather than mistaken views. It is said that he answered the questions in the expectation that they would be used in a programme rather different from that which eventually appeared.

At one point in the programme it was claimed that we had "tried to rat on Concorde". I am not sure what was the relevance of that but apparently we did not do it because of the costs that would have been incurred by so doing. I do not know where that information came from, but I believe that it is of doubtful propriety to make such assertions in public when the evidence must be very slender. Certainly, the transactions that have occurred over the years relating to inter-governmental negotiations on Concorde have never, to my knowledge, been made public.


My Lords, it was immediately after the Labour Government came into office in 1964. They announced that certain programmes were being reviewed. The announcement was made by the noble Lord, Lord GeorgeBrown—Mr. George Brown, as he then was. He included Concorde among the projects that were to be reviewed.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that intervention, but I must say again that I am not sure what was the relevance to the programme in question of discussion relating to Concorde. I accept that the Labour Government did indeed announce that they were reviewing the Concorde programme, but I do not believe indeed I am sure—that it never was announced that the plan, if there was such a plan, to abandon the Concorde project had itself been abandoned because of alleged costs.

It is of course true that, in order to secure participation of the European colleagues, it was necessary for the MRCA, as it was then called, to be designed to fill a number of roles. It is certainly true that this necessitated compromise in certain areas. However, if we want to consider the RAF view of how we have succeeded in meeting the varying roles and, in particular, the two roles required by our Royal Air Force, I should prefer to take the opinion of the present Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron, to whose speech the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, referred earlier. The Air Chief Marshal said—and I quote from a report in today's Daily Telegraph—that: the supersonic plane was living up to the highest expectations and fully met its specifications. However, I do not believe that all the roles for which the aircraft is designed are as contradictory as the television programme suggested. For instance, the German Navy requires an aircraft to carry out reconnaisance and strike missions over the North Sea, which is not too far removed from the primary role required by the Royal Air Force. Secondly, the Royal Air Force air defence variant will have a good deal in common with the Italian requirements for an air superiority fighter. It may he that the Italian variant is itself the least successfully achieved of all the roles which the aircraft is to perform, but one should remember that the Italians' contribution to this programme is by far and away the smallest. It is some 15 per cent. if my memory serves me right.

My Lords, there are two other highly technical points which have been made. The first is that the thrust weight ratio of the aircraft is inadequate, particularly for the RAF air defence variant role. I believe that that assertion, to which I must confess I was myself a party a year or so ago here in your Lordships' House, is no longer true, as the engines have since been considerably up-rated, and indeed it is intended further to up-rate them in the near future. In any event, as I have said previously, the RAF at least are not proposing to use this aircraft as what has been called a "dog fighter".

The second technical point relates to the ability of the aircraft to fly at low level and avoid obstructions, such as masts and chimneys. It is said that the radar being developed for this purpose is unsatisfactory because it cannot detect the smaller targets. We are clearly venturing at this point into the realms of classified information to which neither I, nor, I suspect, the programme producers, have access, but I am quite happy to accept Wing-Commander Beamont's assurance that this criticism is ill-founded, and that indeed was also confirmed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron in his speech to which I referred earlier.

Elsewhere in the television programme it was suggested that the aircraft was too sophisticated and complicated for what an American commentator regarded as the major task for NATO; namely, the ability to stop a massive tank thrust by Warsaw Pact forces. I therefore found it surprising later in the programme for the simplification of the radar to be criticised.

My Lords, I have posed the question as to whether it is right for journalists or broadcasters to produce programmes such as this with so little apparent regard for the truth. I must say that I cannot imagine what was in their minis, because the producers must surely have known that the impression conveyed by their programme was an unhappy one—indeed was, in my view, misleading. I do not think that we can pretend that any potential enemies are not considerably better informed on the merits (or shortcomings) of our weapons than are the general public, so I do not think that there is much mileage in the suggestion that we are displaying our weaknesses to our enemies.

However, I think that a thoroughly damaging, and, as I believe, inaccurate, programme would have been much better kept off the air for the time being, particularly since it was broadcast just a few days before the new British Aerospace Corporation came into being, and when we are all doing our best to promote the interests of our industry and that of our European colleagues. I believe that it is our export markets that are more likely to he damaged by this kind of Programme or article, but that they have no real effect on our defence effort or posture.

What we, as Members of your Lordships' House, or indeed the Government, can do to prevent such programmes is another matter. Of course if broadcasts or articles actually disclose classified information, they should he suppressed or the producers prosecuted, but there was no question of that in this We all turn our faces away from censorship, and rightly so. So we are obliged in this country to rely upon our powers of persuasion, and also the hope that the management, both in the broadcasting organisations and in the Press, will ensure that those who are entrusted with the preparation of such programmes and articles are responsible and intelligent citizens who will not lightly embark upon the dissemination of falsehoods, as we have seen alas! occasionally occur. I believe that this programme was inaccurate and ill-timed, and therefore irresponsible, and that it is therefore for consideration as to whether the producers have justified the trust placed in them.

Finally, my Lords, I come to the third question to which I alluded at the outset of my remarks; namely, whether it is right for those with access to a public forum, such as your Lordships' House, or the newspapers, or our broadcasting facilities, to parade shortcomings, real or imagined, in our major weapons systems and by so doing perhaps give some comfort to our enemies. I believe that, subject to the restraints of the Official Secrets Act, this does no harm, provided of course that the assertions made are genuinely believed to he accurate.

I say this for two reasons. First, as I said earlier, I do not think that the average man in the street, or indeed Member of your Lordships' House, is able to tell the enemy anything that they do not know anyway, but also because I believe that informed criticism is a helpful part of our system. I for one greatly prize, for example, the facility to ask questions of the Government in your Lordships' House relating to defence matters, or anything else. Indeed, as I said earlier, I once asked a Question about the thrust weight ratio of the MRCA, and I remember being somewhat disappointed with the Answer of the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. Indeed, since then the thrust weight ratio of the aeroplane has been improved, and I somewhat vainly imagine that that was, in a tiny part at least, due to my Question and other similar ones in another place and in the Press.

There is one small point that I want to put now to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, I regret that I have not given him advance notice of it, but perhaps he may have the information available. There was a report in the Press a few days ago that the Canadians were considering ordering this aeroplane. I wonder whether he can give us any further information on that matter—perhaps something that will encourage us, rather than discourage us, as this programme did.

My Lords, I conclude by thanking the noble Earl again for raising this matter and giving us a chance to consider not only the points raised in the unfortunate programme, but also the wider questions upon which I have touched. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, will be able to dispel any doubts which may remain in the minds of your Lordships, and will be able to reaffirm the Government's faith in and support for this important project.

8.56 p.m.


My Lords, I, and indeed Her Majesty's Government, warmly welcome the opportunity provided by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to report to you on progress with the Tornado project, and at the same time relieve some of the anxieties which the Granada television programme, "The Plane Makers", may have caused—a programme, I may add, with which the Ministry of Defence was in no way associated.

The Tornado aircraft is a project of the greatest importance to the Royal Air Force. It remains the largest single element in their current re-equipment programme, and is vital not only to the defence of the United Kingdom, but also to the collective strength of NATO, the basis, you will agree, my Lords, of our continued freedom and integrity. This aircraft is also of profound importance to the health of the British aerospace industry, and to those of our collaborative partners in this venture: Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany.

The military requirement for the aircraft has remained constant since the inception of the project. Dealing first with the IDS version—the version common to all three nations—the operational rôles of this aircraft are wide-ranging. The doctrine of flexibility in response has imposed tasks on our front-line combat aircraft which extend from direct support of land forces in the event of minor aggression, to attacks on enemy surface vessels at sea, interdiction of enemy supply lines, reconnaissance, attack on reinforcement areas, and counter-air targets in response to a major aggression. At this point I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that I cannot see cruise missiles doing all these jobs. With its specialised terrain following radar, the Tornado IDS will be able to penetrate into enemy territory at very low level and at high speed, and its blind attack capability will enable pressure to be maintained on enemy forces on the ground, and for interdiction to be maintained around the clock and in all weather conditions. The aircraft, when fitted with the reconnaissance pod, will also be able to operate effectively under a very wide range of weather and light conditions.

The Tornado IDS aircraft, which entered production last summer, will replace the RAF's Canberra, Vulcan and Buccaneer aircraft. This is the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. With its advanced weapons and avionics and its high performance in adverse conditions, it will be very much more effective than the aircraft it replaces.

Her Majesty's Government, my Lords, are fully satisfied that this aircraft will be effective in the intended roles. Our partners' full support for the programme is an indication that they, too, are satisfied that the Tornado IDS aircraft will meet their particular requirements.

The air defence variant of the Tornado is being developed by Britain to fulfil the RAF's requirement for an advanced interceptor, and to replace its Phantoms and Lightnings. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, must not forget that aircraft, like human beings, grow old. A Phantom, in 1990, will be a very old machine indeed. Aircraft have to be replaced because, like any other man-made object, they wear out.


My Lords, does the noble Lord know that the Germans have only just ordered a large number of Phantoms?


Yes, my Lords, but they are warm off the production line. Ours have been off the production line a long time. The aircraft—that is, the air defence variant—will be given a different weapons-carrying capability and changes to the avionic equipment, together with greater fuel capacity. With air-to-air refuelling it will be able to maintain combat air patrol for long periods at great distances from its base. The ADV, as it is commonly known, is thus well suited for its vital peace-time tasks of policing, interception and interrogation of intruders into United Kingdom airspace and, under treaty obligations, over Western Germany, and for the overt demonstration that air-protection can be given to NATO forces at sea within the Eastern Atlantic area. In wartime, it will be employed in the day/night, all-weather air defence role, armed with medium-range and short-range air-to-air missiles, together with cannon. Its radar will enable targets to be detected at long range, while its weapons will be effective against subsonic and supersonic targets at low, medium and higher altitudes. Good progress with the development of the ADV is being maintained, and Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the aircraft will meet the RAF's exacting requirement for an interceptor.

I shall turn now, my Lords, to the performance of the aircraft. There have, of course, been problems during the development programme, but this is inevitable where new and advanced technology is involved. The progress with the flight test programme is, however, good: 11 aircraft have now flown, and something over 900 hours of test evidence accumulated. Perhaps the best indicator of progress I can give, my Lord.—and this is a point already made by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, I think—is to announce that recently a speed in excess of Mach 1.9 was achieved in level flight by the second prototype (in fact, quite an early member of the family of preproduction aircraft) fitted with engines appreciably less powerful than the production standard. Her Majesty's Government have every confidence that the IDS version of the Tornado will meet the planned performance requirements of the three collaborating nations. That is a point that I hope will reassure the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. That is a maximum speed of over Mach 2, which is the target for the aircraft. Despite the threat posed to an attacking aircraft by surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery defences, we believe that the Tornado's ability to penetrate enemy territory at very low level and at high speed will enable it to operate effectively.

My Lords, if I may be permitted to do so, I shall expand for a moment on this aspect. As is usual in military matters, there are no simple absolutes in the shifting equation between offensive and defensive systems; improvements in one can be matched by improvements in the other. Modern SAM systems can offer substantial threats to attacking aircraft, but the aircraft can counter these in a variety of ways; for instance, by attacking the systems themselves or by jamming or deceiving them. I am satisfied that the Tornado, with its sophisticated electronics equipment, in conjunction with its impressive low-level day and night. all-weather capability, will be fully able to penetrate the SAM and AAA defences which it is likely to encounter when attacking its chosen targets.

Here, perhaps I may answer a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about the interoperability of the two weapons disposal systems, or management systems as I think they are called. Although the engineering of the systems in the British and German versions will be different, there will be full inter-operability. Therefore, for example, RAF aircraft will be able to re-arm with German weapons at a German base, and vice versa. I should add that the Tornado IDS stores management system will be available on time for incorporation in all production aircraft; so that is a problem overcome. The RAF requirement for 385 aircraft of both versions has remained unchanged. When the IDS version enters service in the early 1980s and the air defence variant a few years later, they will represent a substantial improvement to the qualitative strength of the RAF's front line, as well as satisfying the defence needs of the United Kingdom.

Your Lordships will realise that to have developed a separate aircraft for each of the several roles would have been prohibitive in cost terms. The multi-role concept of the Tornado, as well as conferring operational flexibility, is undoubtedly the most cost-effective manner of meeting our requirements. The same can be said for collaboration with West Germany and Italy, especially as regards the sharing of development costs and the economies of scale achieved with a longer production run. Furthermore, the deployment of a single type of aircraft in large numbers—over 800—with three major NATO air forces will bring considerable economies in logistic and support costs.

It is at this point that I should like to interject my own views on the assessments that have been made this evening as to the total cost of the project. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, you can calculate the cost of a project at the cost-one-off of a single aircraft, or you can calculate it at its whole-life cost. But in addition I think you must take into account the fact that enormous economies can be made due to the fact that three major countries in the NATO defensive alliance have a common weapon with a common infrastructure and interchangeability throughout the whole of the Western front of NATO. Although I think it would be impossible to quantify that, we know very well that the uniformity of the infrastructure of the Warsaw Pact is one of its greatest strengths; and I have been urged at this Box, as have many other noble Lords, that this whole business, not only of interchangeability and inter-operability but of standardisation, is one of the ways in which we can use most effectively our resources for the defence of the alliance. So when we talk about the cost of one Tornado aircraft, we must think of it in terms of 800 spread over the whole Western front.

The question was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley: What is the signicance to this country of the Tornado programme in terms of employment? He is quite right. At the peak of production, we estimate that about 36,000 people will be employed in about 100 United Kingdom companies; and the figure in Europe is larger.

Indeed—and this is one of my final points—the Tornado will be the largest aerospace project in this country for the next decade. It is also one of the best examples of successful international cooperation and will do much to strengthen the solidarity between ourselves and our European allies. There is nothing like working together in a common project to get into each other's minds and to feel that one is a member of a team. I met this in relation to German members of the Tornado project. In other respects, technically, in administration and in cost, given its complexity, the project is going better than anyone could have expected. This is a source of great satisfaction to those who work on the project and to those who will fly in the aircraft itself.

Before I come to my final paragraph, I should like to enter for a moment into the discussion as to whether or not this is an opportunity for us perhaps to comment on a television programme and whether we might also, as has already been done, express an opinion, because of the power of television as a medium of information, on the need for great responsibility within the television industry in order to ensure that the facts placed before people who have no methods of judging whether those facts and opinions are correct, may not discourage them and turn them away from their support of what is a great international project for the United Kingdom and our allies.

It is my own impression, from the little I saw of all this, that the television company behaved in a most slovenly and irresponsible manner. You do not ask the RAF to send someone along on the basis of a single telephone call. Indeed, the way I myself received the same communication as other noble Lords received this evening, tempts me to echo what the French say: Qui s' excuse's accuse. The company had been slovenly and were in fact giving encouragement to the Queen's enemies and to the Queen's economic advisers—and that was the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. I do not think it will affect our relations with our allies or our enemies, but it may affect the export capabilities of the project of this aircraft.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say why the representatives of the RAF refused to take part in the programme? Does he not think that some share of the responsibility rests on those persons who refused to allow the interview to take place?


My Lords, if an understrapper from a television company talks to an understrapper of the RAF, you do not expect air marshals to jump. These things must be done seriously and properly. This is not trivial journalism as to whether the Tornado has more sex appeal than other things; it is a very serious subject and must be treated seriously.

May I touch on the point about Canada made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne? As the noble Lord has said, the Canadians were one of the original participants in the Tornado project. We know that Canada has remained interested in the aircraft as one of the possible solutions to her own re-equipment programme. We are doing all that we can to assist our NATO partner towards a decision in this direction. The contact was there at the beginning, it is being maintained and I hope it will be fruitful. This debate has been useful and I have no hesitation in reaffirming the confidence of Her Majesty's Government in the Tornado, and I know that this House will support me in that.