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Royal Air Force

Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 10 May 1961

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Fighter Command

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on the arrangements which have now been made to implement the decision placing Royal Air Force Fighter Command under the direct orders of the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence explained the general position to the House on 12th April. Staff discussions are proceeding on the detailed arrangements which flow from the assignment.

Is it now the position that a foreign commander, from his headquarters in France, can order British fighter aircraft to intercept other aircraft in the vicinity of British territory and therefore commit an act of war, without consulting Her Majesty's Government?

This is part of a general N.A.T.O. decision and it is in the general interest of the West that the defence of N.A.T.O. in Europe should be as efficient as possible. A unified system in needed to achieve this. As for our purely national position, closer co-ordination with the European warning system is bound to be of value, and this fact must not be left out of the thoughts of the hon. Member.

Will the Minister answer my question? It is of vital importance to know whether a foreign commander can commit British forces to hostile acts.

S.A.C.E.U.R. has the responsibility of deciding what orders shall be given under certain circumstances. The main point is that we still maintain the right to control our Fighter Command force in this country, and only in the context of the general requirement of S.A.C.E.U.R. would it be brought into action.

Lightning Fighter Aircraft (Weapon)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Air what weapon is, or will be, fitted to the Lightning fighter; and whether this weapon has been designed and tested.

The Lightning Mk. l's main armament is the air-to-air missile Firestreak, which is in service now. Later marks of Lightning will carry an improved missile at present under development.

Can the Minister say whether the present Lightning can fire a Firestreak without a reduction in speed? Can he also state when he hopes to have the new weapon in operation?

I am not able to give the date when the new weapon will be brought into service, but development is going on. There are certain restrictions, in relation to firing the present weapon, but they are not considered by the military authorities as being in any way seriously detrimental to the weapon. The new weapon will have, as one of its main features, a much wider field of attack.

Can the Minister confirm that the missile-firing arrangements of the Lightning are not inferior to those of the fighters of other countries, such as the American F.104?

Space Vehicles

43.

asked the Secretary for Air what steps will be taken by the Royal Air Force to put vehicles into space.

The Royal Air Force is studying the possible military applications of space vehicles with close interest.

Will the Minister induce his Ministry to move rather faster than that, in view of its rather slow appreciation of the existence of space? Will he also bear in mind the fact that much of the American work on space has been done with Thor missiles, of which he has had about sixty at his disposal for several years?

I am aware of those facts, but I would remind the hon. Member that other of my right hon. Friends have an interest in these matters. On this occasion I shall confine myself to saying that the Royal Air Force and the Air Ministry are always forward-looking. We are always looking into the future, and we shall not neglect our responsibilities in this regard.

May we take it that the Ministry of Aviation and the Air Ministry are not waiting for each other to act, and doing nothing?

Will the Minister take a ride on the London Underground during a peak hour of travel and then consider whether putting space into vehicles should not have a higher priority?

I do not see the relevance of the hon. Member's supplementary question, except that it might have been asked with the intention of taking me for a ride.