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Helicopter Fleets

Volume 598: debated on Monday 13 July 2015

The Government are investing to transform the helicopter fleets supporting our armed forces. Last week’s news of a bigger budget and confirmation that we will meet NATO’s target of 2% of gross domestic product reinforces confidence in our equipment plan, which sets out our plans to spend more than £12 billion on helicopters over the next 10 years.

I thank the Minister for the welcome investment in the helicopter fleet, which is underpinned by the commitment to spending 2% of GDP. The tactical supply wing of the RAF, which is based in my constituency of Stafford, supports UK, NATO and allied helicopters around the world by performing hot refuelling, which means that the rotors are running. Will he confirm that sufficient resources will be made available to TSW so that it can support the investment in the new fleet?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking such an interest in the tactical supply wing, which is based in his constituency. I believe that he has seen it on duty, supporting our training activities in Kenya. I join him in paying tribute to the unit, which provides invaluable support to deployed helicopter fleets, at extreme and very high readiness. It recently supported our Merlin helicopters on HMS Bulwark to assist in the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone and in the human trafficking efforts in the Mediterranean. I know that he takes a great interest in both matters.

The Minister will know that it is not only what we buy that is important, but where it is manufactured. What percentage of our helicopters are made in the UK, and what about the other defence industries that seem to be declining? We are relying too much on imported defence equipment.

I confirm that of the five principal helicopter fleets, two are manufactured by AgustaWestland and supported from Yeovil; one is supplied by Eurocopter, which has activities in Oxfordshire; and the Chinook and Apache fleets are Boeing.

Does the Minister agree that we want the best helicopters for our forces? It is right that there is a spread, but we want the best, not necessarily just ones that were made in this country.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, who has some knowledge of this subject; I met his son flying one of the Chinook aircraft in his constituency. It is right that we invest in the best capability and provide our forces with the best equipment that is available across the world, irrespective of where it is manufactured.