To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his latest estimate of the number of European fighter aircraft the Royal Air Force requires.
It is too early in the project to forecast with certainty the eventual size of a United Kingdom purchase of European fighter aircraft. The work-sharing agreement for development is, however, based on the declared requirement for 250 aircraft.
Does the Minister accept that unless the Government give a firm commitment to purchase 250 aircraft, the unit cost of each aircraft might make its eventual cost prohibitive to some of the nation? If the order is to go ahead, it requires a firm commitment from the Government to purchase 250 aircraft. Will the hon. Gentleman say when development work on the EFA is likely to start?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is difficult to give a firm order to purchase an aircraft until there is an aircraft design to purchase. Therefore, it is too early to give such a commitment. I hope that development work will start early next year.
Has my hon. Friend any long-term plan for when the aircraft will become operational, and will he say when it will go into service with the RAF?
I hope that the aircraft will enter service in the mid-1990s.