asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the growing Soviet threat to the stability of South-West Asia, what additional strengthening he intends to make of Her Majesty's Forces' mobile capability.
Her Majesty's Forces already have the capability to deploy world-wide to meet various contingencies. A Royal Navy task group deploys every year outside the NATO area. The current operation in Rhodesia has demonstrated the ability of the Army and RAF to respond to a non-NATO task. All three Services have a regular programme of training and exercises with friendly countries. However, in the light of recent events in Afghanistan, we shall continue, in consultation with our Allies, to keep under review our Forces' capability for operations outside the NATO area.
Does my right hon Friend agree that, due to the shortage of appropriate transport aircraft, our mobile capability outside the NATO area is, to say the least, limited?
In certain circumstances one could wish that that capability was larger. On the other hand, we must keep our capabilities in proportion. In order to carry troops to Rhodesia, for instance, in a short space of time, we required the use of substantially larger aircraft from the United States, which seemed to be a sensible use of Alliance resources. The Alliance exists as a partnership, and the resources of each partner should be used as required in each situation. It does not mean, however, that we are satisfied with the present level of our transport. We are looking into the matter, and it may be possible modestly to extend our capability.
:Does the Minister agree that the large-scale type hovercraft would provide an additional mobility capability for our Forces in the South-West Asia area? What does the Minister intend to do about procuring some?
:I am bound to agree. Again, it is a question of resources. Recent tests and experiments have left no doubt that the value of those hovercraft is substantial.
In my right hon. Friend's designation of friendly countries does he include the People's Republic of China?
I think that I would, yes. Certainly those who are not against me are for me. We are taking some trouble to establish a friendly and sensible relationship with the People's Republic of China.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with our capacity for simultaneous parachute drops? Will he take account of that in reviewing the situation?
I am not sure that I am satisfied with anything. That capability is being studied.