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Joint Strike Fighter

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

Although an initial decision had been made by the previous Government on the basing for the joint strike fighter, it is being reviewed in the light of the strategic defence and security review, as part of the work on the footprint strategy for the defence estate. The military requirement for the joint strike fighter has gone forward to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is leading the work to deliver a defence estate of a sustainable size and shape, and one that delivers the most cost-effective approach to Future Force 2020 basing.

Three weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Defence is reported to have said that RAF Marham would be the logical base for the joint strike fighter. Can the Minister tell me when a decision on basing will be made to help to secure the base’s long-term future, as well as boost confidence for local businesses in west Norfolk?

This Thursday, the Defence Secretary will take delivery of the first of our joint strike fighter aircraft. A decision will be made on where it will be based in good time for the introduction of the strike fighter into service. Detailed work is taking place at the moment to look at the basing requirements, and we will make a decision as soon as is practically possible.

The Minister will no doubt recall that the Ministry of Defence has already concluded that the optimal base for the next generation of fast jets is RAF Lossiemouth, but I am sure that he will also appreciate that, in relation to RAF Lossiemouth, the thoughts of everyone at the moment will be with the personnel and with the families of the crew members who died on board the two Tornadoes that were lost. Will he take this opportunity to update the House on the recovery operation, and on the medical condition of the fourth crewman, who was recovered?

The investigation into what went wrong is continuing, and I must be careful not to say anything that could prejudice it. Our thoughts are with the community and, in particular, with the relatives of those who perished. As soon as we can, we will make it clear to everyone what contributed to that disastrous incident.

On the future of Lossiemouth, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that since that announcement, it has been announced that Typhoon is moving into Lossiemouth. With the best will in the world, it would not be practical to have both fleets situated at one base.

The Minister talked about the bases for the joint strike fighter. The Government have already carried out two U-turns on the joint strike fighter programme and sold the Harrier fleet to the USA. Given that the USA is now in the throes of major budget problems and, if the story in The Sun today is to be believed, might well pull the plug on the whole programme, will the Minister reconfirm the confidence expressed by the Secretary of State a few weeks ago not only in the joint strike fighter programme but in the carrier programme? Will he also confirm that there will be no further budget increases as a result of what is happening in the USA?

I am sure that the hon. Lady does not believe everything she reads in The Sun, or indeed in any other newspaper. There are stories almost every week about the alleged state of that programme in the US. On Wednesday this week, the Secretary of State will be visiting the US Marine Corps to see the short take-off and vertical landing—STOVL—version of the joint strike fighter flying. It has already done 1,000 hours of flying time with the US Marine Corps, and we have every confidence that it will come into service as planned.