HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc35-7W
26. Mr. Heath

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Navy Sea Harriers are in operational condition. [58696]

Mr. Ingram

On 29 May 2002, there were 27 Sea Harrier FA2 and four Sea Harrier T4 aircraft in the Actual Operating Fleet. The Actual Operating Fleet is the total number of aircraft available to the Operating Commander to undertake the defined military task. Numbers of operational aircraft can vary with time.

37. Mr. Syms

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the withdrawal from service of the Royal Navy Sea Harriers. [58708]

Mr. Ingram

On current plans the first Fleet Air Arm Sea Harrier squadron will be withdrawn in 2004 and the remainder of the force will be withdrawn by 2006.

An investment plan has been agreed to take forward Joint Force Harrier (JFH) into the era of Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA) and Future Carriers.

The Strategic Defence Review (SDR)) included a commitment to establish JFH, building on the success of Royal Navy and RAF Harrier aircraft operations in joint carrier air groups. This was a radical initiative to form a truly joint, flexible and deployable force optimised for the demands of the new strategic environment. JFH currently operates two aircraft types—Sea Harrier FA2, an air defence aircraft flown by RN personnel, and Harrier GR7, a ground attack/reconnaissance aircraft flown by RAF personnel. The plan has been for both the Sea Harrier FA2 and Harrier GR7 to be replaced by a common aircraft type. This is currently designated the FJCA with an In-Service Date of 2012.

Work has been taking place on a migration plan to take forward JFH into the era of the FJCA and the future aircraft carrier. We have concluded that JFH should migrate to an all Harrier GR force, maximising investment in one aircraft type. It is planned to upgrade the GR7 to GR9 standard to ensure a credible expeditionary offensive capability until the aircraft leaves service. To achieve this, aircraft systems will be enhanced to ensure their longevity and give the Harrier the capability to operate with smart weapons.

Given the Harrier GR9' s ability in future to employ smart weapons world-wide by day and night from land and sea and the increased emphasis on carrier based offensive air-power in the SDR and confirmed by the emerging conclusions of our post-11 September work, the Sea Harrier FA2 will be withdrawn earlier than planned, by 2006. The Sea Harrier entered service in 1979, and will start to become obsolescent as this decade progresses.

As a consequence of its earlier withdrawal from service, the planned relocation of Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft from RNAS Yeovilton to RAF Cottesmore and RAF Wittering in 2003 will not now proceed. However, the relocation of RN personnel will go ahead but slightly later than currently planned, over the period 2004 to 2006. By 1 April 2007, JFH will have migrated to an all Harrier GR9 force by roughly equal numbers of RN and RAF personnel. These proposals will be subject to consultation with the trade unions in the normal way.

This plan will significantly enhance the offensive strike capability of our aircraft carriers pending the introduction to service of the FJCA.