V.T.O.L. Aircraft

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice 12:00, 3 December 1969

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the use of vertical take-off aircraft, such as the Harrier, at sea.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

No decision has been taken whether fixed wing vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft should be operated at sea. But the question is one which is under study.

The Harrier has been designed and developed for close support of the Army, and its performance characteristics are optimised for that rôle. Whether or not it could also be adapted for maritime operations as a worthwhile complement to sea-borne weapon systems and land based aircraft is something which we shall continue to study very closely, since the possibilities could be very attractive.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

As this aircraft has been tried from Italian cruisers, has it also been tried from the converted Tiger Class cruisers? Is it envisaged that it could be operated from guided missile destroyers or by specially equipped frigates?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

We have had a number of trials in this country and more are due to take place in the spring. The next one will take place on board H.M.S. "Eagle".

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a feeling that the full capability of this aircraft in its naval rôle is not getting quite the priority it deserves? Could he tell us whether the envisaged command cruiser, which I understand may have 12 Sea King helicopters or possibly Harriers, is now in the naval programme and likely to go forward as a replacement to the aircraft carriers of the future?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes an interest in these matters, that the role of the Harrier has been fully investigated; a number of trials have taken place, and, as I indicated earlier, they will continue. But when the hon. Gentleman refers to the question of a new cruiser, I must remind him that the main purpose of these ships will be to carry command facilities and a force of antisubmarine helicopters to which he has referred, as well as to contribute to the anti-aircraft defence of the Fleet. In designing these ships we shall take into account any developments which may occur during their life, as in other weapons systems.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

On the assumption that the trials are successful, do the Government have in mind operating the super Harrier from some form of ship? Until such time as the new generation of these ships is available, is it not obvious that we should use the existing aircraft carriers on the refitting of which the Government have spent nearly £50 million?

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Opposition's policy on carriers is a complete nonsense. It is one of the least cost-effective means of ensuring that we are able to have a naval presence. What I tell the hon. and learned Member is this—

Hon. Members:

Right hon. Member.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Equipment)

I am sorry. I had no intention of being discourteous. The right hon. and learned Member must know, given his great military experience, that one of the possibilities is to use the Harrier on cruisers.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I did not call the right hon. and learned Member. Mr. Judd.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that, owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the replies, I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment.