Tory MPs insist forces must have British helicopters

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The Independent Online
The battle for British industry to supply helicopters to the RAF against US competition broadened last night to two more major defence orders, for attack helicopters for the Army and a naval reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Nimrod.

MPs reacted with outrage at the disclosure that the Ministry of Defence may order American Chinook helicopters for the RAF instead of the Westland EH101. Senior Tory MPs said it was a test of the Government's commitment to the continuation of a British aerospace industry.

Tory MPs are pointing to the two further orders which they believe will be crucial for the industry, with rival US and European bids. There is intense competition to supply 91 attack helicopters for the Army, with British Aerospace offering the Tiger, GEC the Cobra, Westland the Apache, and a bid by the South African defence industry. John Major promised South Africa its aerospace industry would be able to bid for the order last year during his visit to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Bids have to be submitted by 21 February. BAe sources said the Tiger offered UK involvement in orders for 427 helicopters in France and Germany. The contracting US market has led to more aggressive marketing by the US makers.

After the Independent's disclosure that the MoD is poised to order Chinooks, angry Tory MPs who support the EH101 bid said they would be tackling the Chief of the Air Staff at a private meeting in the Commons next month over the RAF's demand that the MoDshould place the entire order for about 40 helicopters with Boeing.

The RAF already operates 32 Chinooks. The aircraft is larger than the EH101, able to carry 10 tons compared with 4.5. Although the unit cost of the EH101 is slightly less than that of a Chinook, there would be substantial extra costs in setting up a fullsupport infrastructure.

Ministers were forced on the defensive over the disclosures, and insisted privately that they remained in favour of a mixed order for Chinooks and EH101s,