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Nato (Aircraft)

Volume 648: debated on Wednesday 8 November 1961

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6.

asked the Minister of Defence whether there is a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation requirement for the development of a vertical take-off and landing fighter and/or strike aircraft;and whether such an aircraft would be equipped to deliver conventional, or tactical nuclear, weapons in the first instance.

The N.A.T.O. authorities, and a number of N.A.T.O. countries, are considering the application of the vertical take-off and landing principle of future aircraft. The details of any such aircraft are classified N.A.T.O. information which I am not able to divulge.

But would not the Minister agree that the development of this type of aircraft is of critical importance for the supply of our forces in a conventional role, and that if we are going to take the doctrine of the pause seriously, then tactical aircraft of this type and others would become the most critical arm?

I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman at all on this. N.A.T.O. does need conventional backing in aircraft as in other things, but what I cannot say is the actual detailed specifications which N.A.T.O. is discussing. What I can say is that our own vertical take-off aircraft, the Hawker, I hope, is one of the ones N.A.T.O. will consider very seriously.

Would my right hon. Friend, having mentioned the Hawker 1127, take into account the fact that this aircraft is flying now? Would it not be advantageous, not only to the British aircraft industry but also to the Royal Air Force, if a limited number at least of them could be supplied now to the Royal Air Force to give operational experience? Is it not possible that an improved version of the 1127 could well fit the bill for N.A.T.O., far better than any new and alternative aircraft?

No. I think there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. As he knows, the West German Government have already joined us in the development of this aircraft. I take careful note of what he says about the support for this project which would arise from a reasonably early order from the Royal Air Force.

As there is a general feeling that the claims of the British aircraft industry have been by-passed in relation to supplies to N.A.T.O., can the right hon. Gentleman push not only the claims of the Hawker aircraft but of Short's, too, on the question of V.T.O.L. aircraft?

Certainly. I mentioned that aircraft only for the very reason that it is the first one flying, but the lift-engine type to which the hon. Gentleman refers is just as important and will be pushed just as hard.

7.

asked the Minister of Defence whether Valiant aircraft allocated to the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces are equipped to deliver conventional weapons while Canberra aircraft allocated to the support of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Europe are equipped to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, and while there is no North Atlantic Treaty Organisation requirement to equip them for any other role;and whether he is satisfied with this arrangement.

All the Valiant and Canberra aircraft in the bomber force assigned to SA.C.E.U.R. can carry either nuclear or conventional weapons. Most of this force is held immediately available to use nuclear weapons as required by NA.T.O. but, as circumstances require, elements of it are equipped for conventional weapons. I am satisfied with this arrangement.

Does not this arrangement suggest that we are doing very little more than paying lip-service to the doctrine of the pause? After all, the Canberra aircraft is the immediate strike aircraft and, even if there is no requirement, would it not be possible to use this initially in a conventional role? Is that not a very serious situation and does it not show that the NA.T.O. doctrine has not been revised at all? Surely this is something which ought to be given very serious attention?

I quite agree, and perhaps I may just add that at the present moment there is an element of the Canberra force—not a very large one, but an element—which is in fact equipped for the conventional rôle.