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Harrier Av8b Aircraft

Volume 974: debated on Tuesday 27 November 1979

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to buy American-built Harrier AV8B aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what degree the United Kingdom is participating in the United States AV8B programme.

Under arrangements agreed between United States and United Kingdom industry, British Aerospace stands to gain 30 per cent. of the airframe work and Rolls-Royce 75 per cent. of the engine work if the United States AV8B programme goes ahead. Sixteen other United Kingdom companies are currently associated with it.

With the aim of retaining for the Royal Air Force until at least the end of the century the unique operational advantages conferred by the Harrier, an Air Staff requirement has been identified for an improved version of this aircraft offering increased manoeuvrability, range and payload. The British Aerospace Mk. 5 Harrier had been specifically designed to meet this requirement, and the AV8B is currently being evaluated as another potential means of doing so.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that answer will bring great consolation and gratification to all those who believe most firmly in this British aircraft, which is now being developed to the great advantage of the NATO Alliance?

Does my hon. Friend agree that a long-term development programme undertaken with the United States for this type of aircraft would provide a better long-term investment for this country and for the Alliance, provided that British Aerospace is given an adequate share of the work?

That is one of the factors that is currently being evaluated. It is important for my hon. Friend to appreciate that we should need to be satisfied that the operational advantages of the AV8B were in line with what the RAF requires.

Can my hon. Friend say when he expects the RAF flight test evaluation team to fly the AV8B in the United States?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the second and more advanced of the two AV8B prototypes crashed about 10 or 12 days ago, and that will necessarily postpone the evaluation. The evaluation is proceeding on the basis of existing data, and it is a matter of judgment whether this information will be adequate on which to base a decision.

Does the Minister agree that long-term weapons development programmes undertaken with the United States always end badly for British industry? We always find that our technology is exploited and that they get the money from the production. Would it not be very much better to concentrate and confine these activities to the United Kingdom wherever possible?

I think that the longer-term interests of the Harrier programme, to which my hon. Friend has alluded, must lie with the possible development of a supersonic Harrier capability. It must be an open question whether we would wish to develop that capability, whatever the outcome of the much shorter-term decision in regard to the Mark 5 versus the AV8B.