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Tornado Aircraft

Volume 87: debated on Tuesday 26 November 1985

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to complete negotiations with British Aerospace plc for an attrition order of Tornado aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

Negotiations are in progress on the purchase of nine additional Tornado GR1 aircraft to help offset expected attrition losses. Orders have been placed for essential long-lead time materials.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the order for the nine Tornadoes and, I hope, a few more, will be placed soon? Will he also confirm that the extra orders placed for Tornadoes for Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are much to be welcomed, will not affect the RAF order to replace the aeroplanes that have been taken out for the Saudi Arabian order?

The time of a production order for these aircraft has to be considered in the context of the Saudia Arabian deal, but if we lose aircraft through accidents or whatever, they will have to be replaced.

There will be some diversion from the RAF to meet the Saudi deal. Our concern is to minimise that effect. We have a commitment to this aircraft, which will have to be replaced. However, the precise timing will depend on finance and on the extent of factors yet to be negotiated in the Saudi deal.

Would not the hon. Gentleman have saved himself some embarrassment if he had taken the advice given to him by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) and ordered early so that he could have delivered both on time?

My hon. Friend understands, as the hon. Gentleman does not, that the point about diversity arises because the production lines at Warton will be full. Because of the substantial order obtained from Saudi Arabia, the production lines at Warton will be full well until the 1990s, and there will be excellent work for the European fighter aircraft programme as well.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the attrition rate for the Tornado in operational conditions on the central front will soon become high unless the aeroplane is equipped with an effective stand-off weapon? What progress is being made to procure such an air-to-surface missile?

We are studying this matter jointly with other countries, because it is important to ensure that the Tornado is effective. As my hon. Friend knows, it is also important to maintain the mid-life update.