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Harriers (Development)

Volume 26: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the Government are now considering developments in the capability of the Harriers and Sea Harriers, including the possibility of developing the aircraft as a supersonic fighter interceptor.

Harrier and Sea Harrier aircraft performed magnificently in the South Atlantic. We shall, of course, be studying very carefully all the implications of those operations. As already announced in Cmnd. 8288, presented in June last year, we are jointly engaged with the United States in the AV8B development of the Harrier, to be known here as the Harrier GR5, which will provide significantly improved performance over its predecessor, especially in range and payload.

The Royal Navy is planning a programme of mid-life improvements to the Sea Harrier which will allow that aircraft to fulfil its role until the late 1990s. Studies on the next generation of combat aircraft are still at an early stage, as I told my hon. Friend during his Adjournment debate on 1 March, but the possibility of a supersonic short take-off and vertical landing aircraft will certainly be covered.

I am filled with admiration for the stupendous heroism shown by the Harrier pilots. Is my hon. Friend aware that the technology used to develop the P110 would also be of assistance in developing the aircraft to meet air staff target 410, which is broadly described as the supersonic Harrier?

Are the factories producing the planes safe? Do any of the aircraft come from the Brough factory in Yorkshire? Are there any plans for the areas where planes from the Brough factory are tested which could put that factory in great danger?

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is driving at as regards the safety of the Brough factory. Perhaps he will write to me and I shall reply.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the present Harrier was derived from the 1127 and that a supersonic version was the 1154, which was scrapped together with the TSR2? Will my hon. Friend examine the 1154 programme when looking for a supersonic version?

I am aware of the background described by my hon. Friend. In an advanced V/STOL programme we are looking for an answer to our needs to the end of the 1990s or to the mid-1990s. Obviously, technology must move a good deal further than that which applied in the examples cited.

As a matter of urgency, will the Minister say whether the Government are favourably disposed towards underwriting or giving an affirmative answer to the British Aerospace P110, which is its latest development?

On several occasions from the Dispatch Box I have told the House that the position has not changed. We are continuing to work with British Aerospace and are considering its proposals. We shall obviously give whatever assistance is possible within the constraints of the defence budget.