asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the cargo and troop-carrying capability of RAF Strike Command.
No. It is for that reason that the fuselages of 30 of our Hercules aircraft are being extended to give extra freight capacity.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that American Galaxy and Starlifter aircraft had to be used to carry our helicopters and other heavy vehicles for the use of our peace-keeping force in Rhodesia suggests that there is a gap in the capability of RAF Strike Command in the requirement to reinforce or to deploy rapidly?
I should tell my hon. Friend that the RAF was in a position to undertake that airlift capacity from within its own resources. The key question as to why it did not is one of speed. The extra heavy lift that United States' aircraft provide was needed. Therefore, we went for the quicker option of getting our forces in place.
Does not my hon. Friend accept that speed is normally a factor in reinforcing any situation and is likely to remain so in the future? Will he tell the House the percentage of the airlift that was carried out by the RAF, commercial companies under contract and by the United States and the extra cost that would be involved if, in order to meet the speed requirement, the RAF had the resources to carry out such an airlift?
First, no civilian aircraft were used. The United States undertook two Galaxy sorties and 21 Starlifter sorties. I do not have percentage figures but I shall write to my hon. Friend on that matter. Of course, it would be desirable for the RAF to have the full range of aircraft available, but the decision was taken some years ago to reduce that option.