HL Deb 13 January 2005 vol 668 cc397-409

1.40 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made on the Typhoon (Eurofighter) programme and the aircraft's introduction into service with the Royal Air Force.

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, since I tabled the Question the contract for a second tranche of 89 Eurofighter Typhoons has been signed. This is a good moment to learn more about this aircraft, which will be a key addition to our defence capabilities.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an indication of the delivery rate for these new aircraft, the proposed programme for the procurement of a further tranche of aircraft for the RAF and the prospects for orders from countries outside our immediate collaborative partners.

Thanks to the good offices of the Minister and the Chief of the Air Staff, I recently went to RAF Coningsby to meet people actively involved with Typhoon. Those who had flown the aircraft were full of praise for its performance; some even used the word "awesome"—not the sort of phrase normally associated with top-gun fighter pilots. Two aircraft, one with no more than a dozen flight hours on the clock, had been deployed to Singapore only a short time before my visit—a most impressive achievement, both operationally and logistically.

Listening to all of this and briefs about immediate plans for the future work at RAF Coningsby was stimulating. For me it could only be bettered in one way: that I should try out Typhoon for myself. So, with a medical check for fitness and a ministerial blessing, this 75 year-old did just that. Even nearly 20 years on since I last flew a fighter aircraft, I found it a delight to fly and easy to handle. I soon started to understand and follow the latest instrumentation and enjoy the aircraft's fantastically impressive performance. It was a marvellous finale to my erstwhile involvement with this programme, but a stark reminder of the time taken from a go ahead to reaching operational capability.

Eighteen years ago, in 1987, when I was Chief of the Air Staff, I signed, along with my opposite numbers from Germany, Italy and Spain, the revised European air staffs' operational requirement for a new fighter which our four air forces were most anxious to have.

Time is too short to remind your Lordships of the many years, even before that date, that the RAF and the other air forces had striven to find common ground for the design and production of a single type of aircraft to meet our various most pressing operational needs. For the RAF it was then to fill a key void in our range of capabilities—an air superiority fighter, but, using an airframe capable of undertaking other, offensive, operations. Such flexibility is highly desirable. It allows for re-roling of the airframe throughout its service life.

Air superiority means to have the performance edge to achieve and maintain dominance over the enemy in the airspaces above and adjacent to our own side's forces, and is vital for our ground and maritime forces as we become ever more committed to expeditionary-type operations.

It was the chiefs of air staff expectation when we signed the operational requirement that prototypes would be flying in the early 1990s, and we would have aircraft in front-line service by the mid-1990s. Now, a decade later, this aspiration is only just beginning to become a reality.

Such delay is not a new experience for the RAF. Collaborative programmes suffer the risk of far greater delay and a failure to achieve development milestones than is likely with a national one. In Typhoon's case this has been a considerable, but by no means the only, part of the reason for such protracted progress. The German Government of the early 1990s became disillusioned with the programme; so much so, that they withdrew.

Although they eventually returned, this was a major delay factor, and the repercussions within the partner countries, including our own while we re-evaluated the cost-effectiveness of a programme without Germany, simply compounded the delay. All high-cost collaborative programmes of this type require revalidation by incoming governments, and the wider the collaboration, the greater the possibilities of such reviews causing delay.

Moreover, complex and innovative technology, such as that used by Typhoon, brings its own problems. Software writing and validation, especially when both flight and engine controls are all computer driven, has to be right. The risks involved if there are software errors can be catastrophic, not just for the aircraft in the air, but for the whole future of the programme.

It is for these reasons, based on experience with a number of programmes over the past 40 years, that I remain concerned about the validity of milestones predicted for new collaborative equipments. It is hazarding our airpower capability to withdraw equipment such as Jaguar and Sea Harrier when replacements are still in early development, even hardly off the drawing board. Delays are sometimes beyond national control; no amount of smart procurement can offset them.

In Typhoon's case the first development airframes started flying in 1994. Ten years later only 10 two-seater aircraft from the first batch of tranche one were in RAF hands.

Even if all goes exactly to plan with operational evaluation and the training of squadron pilots, a significant front-line capability with this aircraft is still some time into the future. No doubt the Minister will be able to give the House an outline of the RAF's plans for this phase in the introduction of the aircraft to service.

Delays like those I have outlined lead inevitably to cost increases, either directly, attributable to the programme itself, or—and this is often overlooked by commentators—in run-on costs of aircraft and equipment due to have been withdrawn, and the extra training and support costs for them. These additional costs press heavily in short-term budgets.

Another often repeated criticism is that the aircraft was designed for the Cold War so that it is an expensive white elephant—no use against asymmetric threats like Osama bin Laden or other terrorists groups. Such criticism is very wide of the mark. Do not forget that the Americans and ourselves actually hold fighters at readiness to deal with hijacked aircraft, though I sincerely hope as a successful deterrent to such an attack.

And who will assert with confidence in the 30 or more years of the life of Typhoon that there will be no other even more serious threat to which this country will respond? Since the end of the Cold War—and going back even before that—in the past quarter of a century we have been using both high-quality defence and offensive air power operationally on many occasions, and particularly in the past decade.

Typhoon will give the RAF the edge over other opposition—one hopes deterring them from attacking our ground and maritime forces, but, if not, finding that Typhoon is master. It would be morally indefensible to equip our pilots to take on the enemy in the air without a better than evens chance of being the victor.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that Typhoon and other advanced equipments achieve the expected performance only if their pilots and ground crews are highly motivated and well trained. That has been the hallmark of the Royal Air Force since its inception. Today's personnel can rightly be proud of their service, with an aircraft such as Typhoon.

Typhoon, when it has been fitted out with its full potential and its pilots have gained experience with its capabilities, will provide that winning edge in any theatre of war for the next 20 or 30 years. It is truly an awesome aircraft.

1.50 p.m.

Lord Garden

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for arranging this opportunity to review the progress of the introduction of Eurofighter Typhoon. I declare a past interest: I served on the air staff in the late 1980s and early 1990s, under the noble and gallant Lord's leadership, and we were often interested in the progress of this project.

As the noble and gallant Lord said, we can track progress back over a very long period. One can look at the origins in the air staff target laid down in 1972 for an air superiority fighter. The changing nomenclature gives us a feel for the complexity of bringing the deal to fruition. We had ECA (European Combat Aircraft), ECF (European Combat Fighter), ACA (Agile Combat Aircraft), EAP (European Aircraft Programme), FEFA (Future European Fighter Aircraft), EFA (European Fighter Aircraft), Eurofighter, EF2000 and now Typhoon. We had a three-nation collaborative programme with France and Germany at the start, but in the end our requirements differed too much. The French requirement to be able to operate from an aircraft carrier perhaps looks more foresighted now than it did then. The 1980s saw the entry of Italy and Spain into the partnership as we lost France.

In looking back at this long and challenging programme we must remember the important part that technology demonstrators played in how it was put together. The EAP demonstrator prototype flew in 1985, just over two years after the production contract was let. That demonstrator had nearly six years of flying, which allowed much of the development work to be tested before going final on the Eurofighter itself. It was perhaps overconfident, although it did not seem so at the time, to rename the aircraft Eurofighter 2000 in late 1992. The first development aircraft flew in 1994, the tranche one contract was signed in late 1998 and the first instrument production aircraft flights took place in April 2002. The formal delivery of aircraft to the four nations took place in June last year, and, as we have heard from the Minister, we have now signed up for the second tranche.

Some commentators look at this long history as though the Eurofighter is a legacy system of the Cold War, but that assessment is absolutely wrong. We can be proud that we have produced an appropriate capability for the current security challenges. In the Cold War we faced a geographically well defined threat, which required long-range air interception. The F3 Tornado was an appropriate capability for that. Now the agile fighter, with an ability to use a range of smart weapons systems, is an important part of any nation's armoury. The long history of development and testing of the technology has allowed that capability to adapt to the changing requirement. So it is not a legacy system; it is an up-to-date system.

We might have gone down the same route as the Americans did of producing a very high cost stealth fighter optimised against a Soviet threat. We see that in the United States F22 Raptor. There have been unclassified reports of simulated combat using the various options available today, ranging from the F22 to cheaper fighters. If you put an F22 against a Sukhoi Su-35 in unclassified informal tests in network simulators, you manage to shoot down 10 Su-35s for every F22 that you lose. If you do it with Eurofighter you manage to shoot down 4.5 aircraft for every Typhoon that you lose. The next best air superiority capability using the same missile systems is the Rafale, which shares a one-for-one exchange rate. F15s, F18s and F16s are all less than unity. We are buying one of the best capabilities. Those are unclassified results, but they give an idea of the order of the advance in our performance and what we are getting.

I wish to deal briefly with the question of price, because it is often said that this is an expensive capability. All modern combat aircraft are expensive, but we are getting an extraordinary capability at what seems a good price. It is difficult to predict the ultimate cost of any particular aircraft system without knowing what the Minister and his Government will do about tranche three. One must spread the costs of development over the total fleet. Nevertheless, one can cost it from the price charged to the Austrians, whose aircraft is reported to cost 62 million euros a copy. I imagine that ours will be slightly more expensive. According to the Minister's figures for tranche two, given in his statement and his letter, the cost is about £50 million a copy or thereabouts.

By comparison, the latest figures for the F22 are 42 billion dollars for the 276 that they originally planned to buy— 152 million dollars each. But they are going to reduce those numbers, so the price will rise, making each aircraft even more expensive. Despite the fall in the dollar, Eurofighter's capability will be extraordinarily good value for money. That has serious implications for its ability as an export product, when other nations look at where they want to go with that sort of aircraft.

Although the Eurofighter is good value in military aircraft terms, there is still the question of costs. As we all know, it is a time of enormous strain on the defence budget. I assume that the Minister will search for ways to keep costs down. Convincing more of our allies to buy Eurofighter would be a good starting point. In that respect we are missing a great opportunity for encouraging sales, while at the same time reducing our own operating costs and increasing overall European capabilities.

The four nations that have now committed will get nearly 400 aircraft. If tranche three goes ahead—we will perhaps talk about that on Monday—the figure will rise to more than 600. That is a serious capability for Europe, which the United States will really take notice of. If we looked at ways to operate the fleet on a more shared basis, there could be significant cost savings in maintenance logistics and training. It would also have the advantage of smaller European air forces being able to operate a few aircraft put into the bigger pool without having to set up the infrastructure normally associated with high-performance aircraft.

Some of that opportunity has already been lost as the four nations have set up their own national arrangements. I do not doubt that in years to come we shall be under great resource pressure; we will look for ways to co-operate and rationalise beyond our own shores. I would like us to consider at some stage operating the Eurofighter force more as a pooled fleet; after all, we are prepared to do it with the Trident missile system with the US. I understand the political difficulties at this stage, but we must not freeze out the option. In that regard we can learn from our experience with the Tornado. In the end, we had to give up the tri-national unit on the Tornado at RAF Cottesmore because each nation had independently modified its Tornado fleet so much that there was not enough commonality in the systems to make common training useful any more. I ask the Minister to look hard at the advantages of keeping all nations' Eurofighters modified to a common standard so that the advantages of shared costs are still open to be exploited if we need to.

When the Minister reports on the progress of the programme, I trust that he will include an update on the state of simulator support. After the problems with the Apache programme over the provision of simulation, we need to ensure that it is coming on-stream for the Eurofighter in the right timescale.

Simulation has other important benefits. The use of network simulators will make training time much more productive. While aircrew will continue to need training time in the air, we have argued for many years that technology will change the balance of that time in the cockpit and the time in the simulator. That will have not only cost benefits but environmental benefits as well. Perhaps the Minister could indicate how the balance will be changed by the introduction of Eurofighter with its simulators into service.

The reduction in fast-jet numbers under the latest RAF drawdown will presumably have eased the shortage of pilots. However, we are looking now at the introduction of Eurofighter, the continuation of Tornado F3 for a slight overlap, the continuation of Tornado GR4, and then the Harrier/JSF transition to come. All of that will require a sustainable long-term plan for sufficient numbers of fast-jet aircrew. I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the current plans will be able to sustain the necessary numbers.

In addition, if we are moving towards a smaller fleet of aircraft overall, they will need to be used as efficiently as possible. So perhaps there is a case for raising the aircrew-to-aircraft ratio. Are we looking at that, and what plans does the Minister have?

We on these Benches very much welcome the precision attack capability development. This is not just an air superiority fighter but will be capable of air-to-ground missions. That raises another question. How do we organise those different capabilities? It appears that we are still looking at having different air defence and ground attack squadrons and specialisations. Is that sensible any more? Are we looking at crews being multi-roled rather than specialised as they have been in the past? We need to be thinking of more imaginative approaches in the light of the experiences of other nations and the new changing requirements we have in terms of the operations we do.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister. He has had responsibility for defence procurement, seeing the first tranche into service and signing the contract for the second tranche. This is an important defence capability. The technology has been developed within Europe and the export potential is significant.

2.2 p.m.

Lord Luke

My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for initiating this debate, on an issue which, judging by the press it is constantly receiving, can indeed be considered topical. It has been a most interesting and exceedingly well informed discussion covering a range of points which are most pertinent to the subject. I will not try to reiterate too many of those already made today, especially considering the transcendent expertise of the noble Lords who have just spoken.

The operational arrival of the Eurofighter Typhoon—a really excellent aircraft, I have heard from all sources—is critical to bringing the RAF's capabilities into line with those required in an air force in the 21st century. Once fully operational, it will have replaced the F3 Tornado in the air defence role and, when the ground-attack variant of the Typhoon is developed, also the Jaguar and its ground attack and reconnaissance role. It will therefore become the RAF's premier swing-role strike fighter.

Could the Minister please tell us more about the planned retirement of the F3 Tornados? When deliveries of the first tranche of Typhoon are complete, will the F3s be offered for sale to allies not involved in the Typhoon programme or will they be scrapped? Could he also tell the House when he expects to conclude a contract with the manufacturers on the ground-attack variant? Is this likely to cost more over and above the Typhoon budget as it is at present?

We on these Benches recognise that the Typhoon will play an increasingly important role in our air defence over the next 30 years. To those who suggest— as it has been suggested really rather a lot in the media—that the aircraft is obsolete and irrelevant, I say that without command of the air, ground and sea based forces are placed at serious risk. Of course we recognise that this four-nation project has been over budget and behind schedule, and that is putting it pretty mildly, but that is partly attributable to the collaborative nature of the project and partly to the

advances in technology incorporated in it. In terms of upgrades, can the Minister tell me whether there are likely to be any significant advances in software between the first and second tranche?

There is no doubt that these planes are prime examples of a new military technology and that the contracts to build them are providing significant employment both here and abroad and will continue to do so for a number of years. In fact, as I understand it, we are now at a point where cancellation of tranche three would, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned, be almost as expensive as going ahead. Could the Minister please confirm whether that is the case?

Much has been said about the Typhoon itself; however, these aircraft will not be of much use without sufficient trained pilots to fly them and indeed technicians to maintain them. Like the noble Lord, Lord Garden, I am a little worried whether there are enough trained pilots and technicians for the first tranche and indeed whether there will be enough coming along for the second and possibly the third tranche later on.

My eye was caught by a piece in the Times last week, with which I am sure that most of your Lordships will be familiar, concerning an alleged dispute at a senior level within the MoD that it is no longer feasible or affordable for the Government to go ahead with both the Typhoon and the planned aircraft carriers. What is the Minister's response to the article? Is his department indeed considering axing or curtailing one or other of these extremely expensive projects?

I should also like to ask the Minister what effect the cost overruns such as that seen with the Typhoon will have on other parts of the defence budget. I understand that the 20 largest major procurement projects which were originally intended to cost £44 billion have now risen to £50 billion, an increase of 14 per cent. From where will the money come to pay for those costs?

It seems that the Government are unable to manage their major procurements efficiently enough, and that means that our frontline forces have had to suffer under-funding. Our defence budget is already seriously overstretched, and as we are quite rightly committed to numerous major defence projects vital to delivering our future security at the same time as more of our Armed Forces are deployed than at any time in recent years, we simply cannot afford these endless cost overruns and interminable delays. Can the Minister inform the House what contingency arrangements the Government have made to cover any increase in costs that the next two tranches of Typhoon may incur?

The strategic value of this impressive swing-role aircraft will undoubtedly and unquestionably benefit our Armed Forces immeasurably, but the delay and overspend on a project that is far from completed, and the commitment of funds during a period of extremely sensitive defence cuts elsewhere in the Armed Forces, casts a distinct shadow over the political handling of this project. Nevertheless, I look forward very much, as always, to listening to the response of the Minister.

2.8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on securing this debate. I should like to thank him and the other noble Lords who have spoken for their contributions and particularly for their support, well expressed in every case, for this project. This project is an extremely important programme for the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, and I stand out as the only two speakers who have not had the experience of the RAF at the very senior level that both the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, have enjoyed. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, will forgive me if I say that the two of them spoke with obviously much more experience and expertise than perhaps he and certainly I can manage on this occasion. I am very grateful for what they have said. It is good that both were young enough to have been around at the start of this project.

A view that I am sure will be common to all Members of the House is that no matter how technologically advanced our equipment is or may become, we rely first and foremost on the quality of those who fly these aircraft and those who prepare them for flight. I am sure that the House will agree that in the RAF, as in all our Armed Forces, frankly we have the very best.

However, the dedication and professionalism of our service personnel must be supported by provision of the equipment that they need to do their job effectively. The order placed last month for the second tranche of Typhoon is solid evidence of our commitment to provide our people with the best equipment.

Typhoon will provide the RAF and our partners' airforces with an outstanding combat aircraft that, with its multi-role capability—and I break off now to say that there will not be some kind of multi-role variant, this is a multi-role aircraft now—its flexibility and its adaptability will provide the cornerstone of their fighting capability well into the 21st century. Recent operations, most recently in Iraq, have demonstrated the vital role of air power on the modern battlefield. In Typhoon we have an aircraft capable of extending this capability and meeting the threats of the future, which will enable our RAF to deliver its effects within a wider, network-enabled capability, both with our own armed services and with our allies.

It is right to say that Typhoon started out as an air superiority fighter with a secondary ground-attack capability, and commentators—both distinguished and yet still uninformed—still criticise it as a Cold War relic. I was particularly glad to hear what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said in dismissing that criticism. However, as we all know, today's operational environment demands much greater emphasis on all-weather precision and stand-off attack, while retaining the air superiority role. The Typhoon of today has been developed to meet this requirement and we will continue to adapt it throughout its life to maintain both its effectiveness and its superiority.

The measures being taken to ensure an early air-to-surface capability for the tranche one aircraft provide a good example of how we are adapting Typhoon to the needs of today's and tomorrow's RAF. That will be achieved through the provision of a laser designation pod and precision-guided bombs—in this case, Enhanced Paveway II. The flexibility to equip the aircraft to meet the weapon requirements of individual partner nations is an important feature of the aircraft, which we will be exploiting. But the majority of the aircraft is common to all partner nations, including the airframe structure, engines, avionics, flight and utility controls. We are intending, as are all nations involved, to operate our own aircraft. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Garden, will be pleased to be reminded that the partner nations have developed the integrated weapon support system in order to maximise the commonality of support requirements. I take on board the points he made about that.

In due course, the tranche one aircraft will be brought up to tranche two standards. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Luke, tranche two has increased and better software. That will create a truly multi-role fleet, equipped to complement other air and land forces in a wide variety of theatres worldwide.

Perhaps I may refer briefly to tranche three. Under the four nation Memorandum of Understanding that underpins the Typhoon joint programme, the UK has undertaken to procure 232 aircraft out of a total production of 620; 55 were ordered in tranche one, with an additional 89 aircraft being purchased in the second tranche. Decisions on tranche three are not required before 2007.

I have so far spoken about capability. I turn to the significant progress we have made with Typhoon's introduction to service with the RAF, which has already taken delivery of 10 tranche one aircraft. We expect to continue delivering aircraft at a rate of approximately 13 per year. Industry does, however, have the capacity to increase production to cope with export orders.

Typhoon has now flown over 650 sorties, equating to over 900 flying hours, and is supported by BAE Systems under the very successful Case White industrial partnering arrangements. Under Case White, Typhoon is matching, and indeed exceeding, expectations, not only in its flying performance but also in terms of its reliability and availability. Since the RAF flying started, only about 3 per cent of planned flights have had to be aborted due to aircraft issues. Such a record of reliability is particularly impressive in an aircraft of this sophistication so recently introduced into service. The best example of this excellent reliability was demonstrated last year by the deployment of two brand-new aircraft to Singapore to take part in the Republic of Singapore Air Force evaluations. That is a testament to the quality of the product and to the effective working relations developed between the Royal Air Force and BAE Systems.

Consequently, it is no surprise that interest in the aircraft has been shown by a number of other nations, and we are actively supporting industry in seeking export orders. We have a special four nation committee dealing with exports alone. Others clearly recognise the aircraft's merits. Mention has been made of Austria, which has ordered 18. That is excellent news both for the Government, because it spreads the costs, and for our economy by providing high-quality work for a skilled workforce.

We are now moving towards the next major milestone in the programme—the move of the RAF Typhoon squadrons to RAF Coningsby and the build-up of the Typhoon fleet. That embraces a wide range of military planning, including the standing down of the existing systems—such as Jaguar and Tornado F3—that it will replace, the very significant personnel implications of introducing a new aircraft into service, and the preparation of infrastructure at the RAF stations from which Typhoon will operate. F3s will be put into our normal disposal system, which may include onward sale to third parties or—and I hope not—sale for scrap, as appropriate.

Preparations are almost complete following a large programme of renovation and new-build projects that will provide a modern state-of-the-art base for this state-of-the-art aircraft. Much of the RAF's current focus is on bringing Typhoon into service at Coningsby.

We will see the Typhoon Operational Conversion Unit and the Operational Evaluation Unit move to Coningsby later this year and the build-up of the unit's operational Typhoon force during 2006 and the year following. I can assure the House that we will have sufficient pilots to operate our fast jet fleet.

The Typhoon squadrons—and I hope that this will please the noble Lord, Lord Garden—will be multi-role and will replace the current single-role Tornado F3 and Jaguar squadrons. The transfer of squadrons to Coningsby kicks off Typhoon's role as a central part of Britain's fighting capability—a role that will last a very long time into this century.

A vital part of establishing our multi-role squadrons is having properly trained pilots to fly and operate the aircraft. We will provide a balanced mix of simulators and live training and have invested a significant effort to ensure that the balance is right. The balance between simulator and in-training is kept under constant review and we are confident that we have the right balance. Before proceeding with ASTA—the training programme connected with this project—the investment decision process included a full training needs analysis and investment appraisal that ensured a cost-effective balance between simulator and on-aircraft training.

Defence investments do not get much larger than Typhoon. Some might say that we should have signed up to tranche two earlier, but, on such an important investment, it was essential that we got the contract right. I am delighted that we have been able to work with our partner nations and industry to conclude tranche two negotiations. I thank all those involved for their sterling efforts in achieving that.

The tranche two order is worth some £4.3 billion. That is a huge investment in front-line capability that will provide the RAF with 89 aircraft in addition to the 55 already on order under tranche one. Typhoon is not in competition with any other large project. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked me about that with regard to an article in the Times last week. There is no competition between the projects, and both are essential parts of our future programme.

The order forms part of a larger contract shared with our three partner nations—Germany, Italy and Spain— for 236 aircraft. It represents one of the largest European defence investments ever. The order is obviously good news for British industry as well as for the Royal Air Force. It has been estimated by BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce that, during peak production, the tranche two order will help sustain 16,000 jobs with defence manufacturers and their suppliers. As importantly, it keeps alive key skills and capabilities—including system integration, specialist software, crew and escape systems and sensors—that are vital to the future prosperity of the UK's aerospace industry.

As has been rightly pointed out, however, Typhoon has not always had the smoothest of rides. That is not all that surprising for a programme of such size, complexity and importance. There have been challenges. As was pointed out, we carefully considered our planned future capabilities after the Cold War. Eurofighter was not exempt. We concluded, along with our partners—we know about the delay in the early 1990s through one of our partners—that Typhoon still had an important role to play in the less predictable post-Cold War strategic environment. That point was made clearly in this short debate.

We should also remember that Typhoon was initiated long before the Government's Smart acquisition initiatives were introduced. I believe that, if we were starting today, we would have negotiated some of the earlier challenges more deftly under Smart acquisition. Nevertheless, we are still finding ways, we hope, of improving the way in which we conduct business, by taking steps with fellow partner nations, NETMA and industry to improve the delivery and management of the project as we move forward to tranche two. We have adopted Smart acquisition policies where appropriate. For instance—this is significant—the capability of Typhoon will progressively increase as part of the Future Capabilities programme that will commence in 2005. Future weapon systems will be integrated on to the platform as and when they become available.

Typhoon will provide our Air Force with an exceptional weapons system that will be the cornerstone of the RAF's future fighting capability. The words of the RAF pilots who have flown it speak for themselves. Indeed, the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who has flown it, speak for themselves. I shall quote some current pilots. One said: Typhoon is a fantastic aeroplane". Another said: It is absolutely tremendous to fly". The word "awesome" was, I think, the last word in the noble and gallant Lord's speech this afternoon. Lest it be thought that those of us speaking today are biased in some way, either because of having served in the Royal Air Force or for any other reason, I must refer to the senior United States Air Force general who, fresh from an exhilarating first flight in Typhoon and, naturally, quite excited, was heard to say, "This is the best fast jet in the world". We agree. What more can be said, beyond thanking the noble and gallant Lord once again for the opportunity to commend Typhoon to the House?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 2.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 2.25 to 2.40 p.m.]