EFA hopes pinned on German rethink

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Indy Politics
The Government has no plans to pull out of the European Fighter Aircraft project, Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, emphasised yesterday. But he appeared to stake his faith on a change of mind by Germany, which has decided to quit the four-nation programme.

In spite of scorning the Germans' expressed wish for a cheaper, lighter aircraft, Mr Rifkind also made clear that growing concerns about cost - spelt out by Giuliano Amato, the Italian Prime Minister, on Monday - had been taken to heart, while he declined to give any pledge that EFA would eventually be built.

Responding to an emergency Commons question on the project's future, Mr Rifkind said the best way to a cheaper aircraft was to 'drive down the costs of the existing design'. The next step would be to consider how best to take the project forward with other EFA partners and industry.

In reply to Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, chairman of the Conservative backbench defence committee, who said the German decision was conditioned by constitutional restrictions on military activity and internal political pressures, Mr Rifkind said: 'We cannot see how a new aircraft . . . can be anything other than vastly more expensive than developing the EFA to production phase.'

Germany had given no clear indication of how its aim of a new fighter aircraft by the end of the century would be achieved, but it was already committed to investing a further pounds 1bn in the EFA programme, he said. This was an extra reason for 'further thought'.

Any alternative would be more expensive and more primitive than EFA, could not begin to compete with existing Russian aircraft, already in the hands of Iraq and Iran, and require redevelopment delaying the aircraft's entry into service by up to eight years.