HC Deb 27 October 1953 vol 518 cc349-51W
77. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Minister of Supply whether he will make a statement about his recent visit to Woomera in connection with the guided rocket programme and his discussions with the Australian Government on this subject.

Mr. Sandys

The primary purpose of my recent visit to Australia was to review with Australian Ministers the scheme for the development of guided rockets, which is being jointly undertaken by Her Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom and Australia.

In Canberra, I had a series of discussions with the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, the Minister for Supply, Mr. Beale, and other Ministers concerned.

After noting with satisfaction the considerable progress already made, we considered plans for the future and agreed a further programme of rocket development to be carried out over the next few years. This programme, which includes a number of important weapons for the use of all three Services, will continue to be accorded high priority by both Governments.

We also reviewed the arrangements for the sharing of costs and considered what changes should be made in the light of the experience gained since the initiation of the scheme.

Up to the present the arrangement was that each Government should pay for all work done or equipment bought within its territory, irrespective of which of the two Governments placed the order. In accordance with this formula the Australian Government had hitherto borne the cost of any industrial work carried out by private firms in Australia in connection with the testing of guided rockets on the Woomera range. However, it has now been agreed that the United Kingdom Government should, in future, bear the cost of any further work of this kind which may be done in Australia to its order. For their part, the Australian Government have agreed to take over a larger financial responsibility for range equipment, ordered by them in the United Kingdom.

These changes have the advantage of giving to each Government a more direct control over its own expenditure. Their practical effect on the respective financial liabilities of the two countries will depend on the amount and nature of the work being undertaken which will vary from year to year.

I was very glad of the opportunity of my visit to Australia to see for myself the rocket testing range at Woomera and the associated research establishment at Salisbury. It is necessary to see Woomera to grasp the size and scope of this far-sighted project. Within the space of a few years the Australian authorities have, in an almost uninhabited area, created extensive weapon trial installations and a comprehensive organisation to operate them. This includes assembly shops, launching gear, observation posts, electronic control instruments and other scientific apparatus. Airfields and hangars capable of receiving the largest types of modern bomber aircraft have also been constructed.

These unique facilities, coupled with the ability and enthusiasm of the technicians, Service men and administrative staff, who together form a splendid team, have made Woomera what is probably the finest weapon testing ground in the world.

To appreciate the complexity of the technical problems involved in the development of guided missiles, it must be remembered that they are nothing less than miniature, pilotless, rocket aircraft capable of flying and steering themselves at high supersonic speeds. As with the development of a new aircraft of conventional type, the process of evolving a guided rocket comprises a number of stages. Apart from basic research, which is not tied to a particular weapon and which goes on continuously, there are three main phases. The first phase is the design and construction of prototypes. The second is the carrying out of trials and the introduction of such modifications as the trials show to be necessary. Thirdly, there is the manufacturing phase, in which the aircraft or rocket goes into quantity production. As with aircraft, so with guided rockets, all these three stages have to be gone through, although they may to some extent overlap one another.

It is in the trials stage, which we are now entering with several rocket weapons, that the vast and well-equipped Woomera range is of such immense value. Its remarkable facilities enable precious time to be saved and will help to hasten the date when these important new instruments of defence can be introduced into service.

Finally, let me emphasise that both Governments are agreed that this important defence project should continue to be treated as a joint enterprise. This close partnership, which has contributed so much to the progress already achieved, is a fine example of practical co-operation between members of the British Commonwealth.

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