HC Deb 04 November 2002 vol 392 cc60-1W
Mr. Gerald Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he plans to supplement the Fleet Air Arm with additional pilots from foreign and commonwealth countries in order to achieve full manning for the 150 F35 aircraft, once they are acquired. [77935]

Mr. Ingram

As announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, Lord Bach, on 30 September, it has been decided to purchase up to 150 short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) versions of the Lockheed Martin F35s to meet the future joint combat aircraft (FJCA) requirement for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. These aircraft, which are due to enter service in 2012 with the first unit of a new class of carrier, will replace both the land and carrier-based Harrier aircraft of Joint Force Harrier.

No final decision on aircraft numbers has yet been taken. The current planning assumptions to procure up to 150 includes not only front-line aircraft, but also provision for training, maintenance, trials, and attrition.

It is planned that, as with Joint Force Harrier, both Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots will fly the F35 aircraft when it enters into front-line service. The exact requirements for front-line crews for the successor joint force have yet to be determined by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. On current planning assumptions it will not be necessary to supplement aircrew manning of the joint force from foreign and Commonwealth countries, as we are confident we will be able to fully man the force with regular Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots. However, as with all current operational and training squadrons, exchange personnel from foreign and Commonwealth countries may well fill some posts.