§ 28. Mr. Robert Atkins
asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects to make a decision on the experimental aircraft programme; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Ian Stewart
The Government announced their support for this programme last September. Its object is to bring together and demonstrate in an aircraft specific advanced technologies applicable to a variety of possible future advanced agility aircraft in order to give a sounder base for future decisions on combat aircraft for the Royal Air Force.
The experimental aircraft programme is a joint venture by the Ministry of Defence and industry, led by British Aerospace, to which both parties are contributing financially. Terms have been agreed for the first phase of the programme, which covers the construction of an experimental aircraft up to and including first flight, which is expected in three years' time. For the purpose of carrying out the experimental aircraft programme, British Aerospace has proposed to use one of the planned prototypes of the agile combat aircraft on which it is collaborating on a private venture basis with Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm and Aeritalia, and it has been agreed that the Ministry of Defence's demonstrator needs can be met in this way. The Ministry of Defence is contributing to the experimental aircraft programme only and has no commitment to the agile combat aircraft as such.