asked the Secretary of State for Air when he expects the air-to-ground missile, Blue Steel, to be operational with Bomber Command.
I have nothing to add to the forecast I made on 8th March in the Air Estimates debate.
Is it not the case, therefore, that Blue Steel now is being so seriously delayed that it is quite probable that Skybolt, which has a vastly superior performance, will be available very shortly after Blue Steel? Is there a real purpose to be achieved by continuing with the production of Blue Steel?
Yes, indeed, Sir. I do not accept, to begin with, that we shall not have Blue Steel substantially in advance of Skybolt, and I think that it will fulfil a very useful rôle. Its continuing importance in air defence all over the world, to which reference has been made already in Questions today, underlines the importance of having a stand-off weapon of short-range first and of long-range later, and we shall be glad to have Blue Steel.
What is the purpose of having a stand-off weapon with a 100-mile range about a year before having one with a 1,000-mile range?
I do not entirely accept the hon. Member's time-scale, but as I tried to explain during the Air Estimates debate, there are two phases in air defence: one is point defence, namely, building up defence round a particular target; the other is overall defence over the country's air space. The stand-off missile would be extremely valuable, whatever the state of overall defence, in attacking a particular target.
We are discussing rather hypothetical considerations, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give an assurance, in pursuing the idea of Blue Steel, that it will come in a considerable time before Skybolt? In a previous answer the right hon. Gentleman said that the United States had now definitely ordered Skybolt for the United States Air Force. Is that so? I was under the impression that it was still in an experimental stage and that no firm order had been placed.
I am answerable in the House only for the Royal Air Force, and I think that what I have said explains the situation where Skybolt is concerned. As to Blue Steel, I have nothing to add to the forecast which I made and which I think at the time went fairly far.