HL Deb 18 January 2001 vol 620 cc144-6WA
Baroness Gale

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether an aircraft has been selected to meet the requirement to replace the Sea Harrier FA2 and Harrier GR7 aircraft of the joint force Harrier. [HL379]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

The MoD noted in the Strategic Defence Review that the US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was a strong contender to meet the requirement to replace the Sea Harrier FA2 and Harrier GR7 aircraft of the joint force Harrier in the early years of the next decade.

In the light of further work on the various alternatives to meet the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft requirement, and of the successful progress of the JSF Concept Development phase, it has now been concluded that JSF is the option with the best potential to meet our needs. It has accordingly been decided to join the US as a collaborative partner in the next stage of the programme (Engineering and Manufacturing Development)—subject, of course, to the decisions of the incoming US Administration on the future of the programme.

JSF is a single seat, supersonic aircraft, incorporating advanced "stealth" technology, capable of performing multi-role operations from aircraft carriers and land bases. Analysis of the available options demonstrated that, on a through life basis, JSF should meet most cost-effectively our military requirements. It promises to be an oustanding aircraft.

The UK has been a full collaborative partner with the US in the Concept Development phase of the JSF programme since 1996. On Wednesday 17 January in Washington, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed with the US Government that covers the next phase of the programme, Engineering and Manufacturing Development.

On current plans, contracts are expected to be awarded for this phase of the programme later this year. Signature of the MoU will enable the UK to participate in the selection of the prime contractor, for which two consortia, one led by Boeing and the other by Lockheed Martin, are competing. Demonstrator aircraft from both consortia have successfully completed a series of intial flight trials.

The MoU covers only the next development phase of the programme. Defence Secretaries Cohen and Hoon have therefore agreed a set of principles that will provide a framework for UK involvement in the JSF programme in the longer term. The principles we have agreed will safeguard UK national interests, ensuring that we retain the military and industrial capability to manage the aircraft effectively through life.

UK participation as a full collaborative partner in the JSF programme will represent a significant opportunity for UK industry. UK companies have already played a significant role in the programme to date. They are well placed in both of the bidding consortia to win, on merit, substantial high quality work, both in the next phase and over the life of potentially the largest military procurement programme ever. Some 70 British companies, including BAE SYSTEMS, Rolls Royce. Smiths Industries, Messier Dowty International, Cobham PLC, TRW ASG (Lucas Aerospace) and the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, are well placed in the bidding consortia to win subcontracts on merit.

The cost to the UK of the next programme phase will be of the order of £1.3 billion, plus a further £600 million worth of work to meet UK national requirements.

A number of our European allies are considering participation in the JSF programme. JSF will play a crucial part in developing the transatlantic partnership, in enhancing NATO interoperability and in improving European military capability.

JSF will form a major part of the UK's future offensive air capability, along with Eurofighter and other air systems, for several decades to come. It has not yet been decided how the total capability requirement will be met over that period. Nor has it been decided at this stage what JSF variant will best meet the UK's requirements, nor the numbers of aircraft that might eventually be purchased. For the Future Offensive Air Systems project, the MoD are continuing to study a range of options, including manned aircraft, cruise missiles and uninhabited combat air vehicles. Allied to these studies will be a programme of technology demonstration, some of which may be collaborative, offering scope for work by the UK aerospace industry.

We shall place in the Library, and on the MoD website, copies of the MoU relating to the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of JSF, and of the exchange of letters with Defence Secretary Cohen.