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Harrier Fleet

Volume 520: debated on Monday 13 December 2010

The strategic defence and security review published on 19 October 2010 stated that the Harrier fleet would be withdrawn from service in 2011. We have brought this date forward to coincide with the cessation of flying. The Harrier fleet will now be retired from service with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force on 15 December 2010.

I was lucky enough to sit in the cockpit of a Harrier jet when I was working for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Gibraltar some years ago. The jets are fantastic pieces of kit. Does the Minister agree that the Harrier jets and their pilots have performed a great service for this country? Will he also update us on the training programme for the joint strike fighter, which is the replacement?

It is a pleasure to echo the hon. Lady’s words in paying tribute to all who have served with the Harrier, in both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and in complimenting the Harrier itself, which, in its day, was a much-admired and, indeed, groundbreaking piece of engineering. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I had forgotten the hon. Lady’s question. Training for the joint strike fighter is already under way. Indeed, it will continue throughout the next few years, increasing its momentum considerably as we get into the second half of the coming decade, because of the necessity to bring the JSF into service in 2019. The intense training period will run for several years ahead of that, but the training itself has already begun.

The Minister for the Armed Forces said in an interview on 9 November that the Government would save more money by scrapping the Harrier than by scrapping the Tornado, yet the Minister responsible for defence equipment, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), said in a subsequent written answer that the cost of supporting the Harrier to 2018 would have been £0.7 billion, whereas the cost of the Tornado over the next 10 years would be £3.1 billion. However, Lord Astor put the figure at £4.8 billion. Does that not show that there is not only a capability gap, in the words of the Secretary of State, but a credibility gap, too?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is comparing like with like in those figures, but in any case, the military grounds for the choice were straightforward. It would not have been possible for the Harrier to go back into service in Afghanistan because of the run-down of the Harrier fleet under the previous Administration. Furthermore, the Tornado has a considerably greater range of capabilities, in terms of its range and performance, weapons payload and reconnaissance capabilities. The decision was taken on the basis of military advice.