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Armilla Patrol

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what point defence the Royal Navy's frigates and destroyer currently on Armilla patrol have against sea-skimming missiles.

The ships serving on the Armilla patrol are provided with self-defence equipment relevant to the range of threats in the region.

Is the Minister saying that the three ships do not have the last-ditch point defence system that is needed for them to defend themselves against sea-skimming missiles? Why were the Phalanx-equipped type-42s or batch 3 type-22s not sent out?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we rotate the ships on the Armilla patrol. They have a variety of layers of air defence, including long-range surveillance radar, medium-range Sea Dart missiles and point defence Sea Wolf missiles, close-in weapons systems such as Phalanx and Goalkeeper, and also soft-kill measures such as jammers and decoys. [Interruption.] It may be a matter of amusement to Opposition Members, but the protection of our ships in the Gulf is a matter that we take seriously.

None of our ships is likely to have the whole range of all the available weapons systems. I should like to add a final point—[Interruption.]—if I am allowed to do so. It is not in the interests of the safety of our ships in the Gulf for us to comment on the likely form of response to particular kinds of attack.

Were not there recommendations, arising out of the Falklands war, that type-22s and type-23s should urgently be fitted with vertical-launch Sea Wolf defence systems? Are such programmes somewhat behind schedule? In the interests of the Royal Navy, could they be brought forward?

I appreciate the importance of Sea Wolf, as does my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement who is pursuing the matter. We hope that the systems will be available and operative as soon as possible.

Where does the Minister get terminology such as "soft-kill"? How many perverters of the English language are employed in the Ministry of Defence to dream up such expressions? How much is the Armilla patrol costing the British taxpayer? What contribution is he asking for from multinational oil companies such as Shell and Esso for protecting their ships?

The Armilla patrol is part of the Royal Navy's operations. We do not separately cost individual aspects of it. I should have thought that taxpayers — individuals and companies — would be perfectly willing that part of the revenue that they pay to the Government for income tax, corporation tax and other taxes should go to maintain freedom of British shipping in the Gulf.