US warplanes lease deal rejected

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The Independent Online

The Government yesterday rejected a plan to lease American F-16 fighters for the RAF, lifting a threat both to thousands of jobs and the pounds 42bn European Fighter Aircraft Programme.

Instead, the Ministry of Defence will pay pounds 125m to upgrade the ageing British-built Tornado F3 fighter to plug the gap until the Eurofighter planned by a consortium of European countries is ready to take over early next century. The MoD has placed the order with British Aerospace to upgrade the F-3, the RAF's principal air defence fighter, to enable it to carry Amraam and Asraam missiles to improve its capability.

James Arbuthnott, Minister for Defence Procurement, said: "Together with the radar improvements and joint tactical information distribution system with which the aircraft is already being equipped, this upgrade will greatly enhance the capability of the Tornado F3 and provide the Royal Air Force with an up-to-date beyond visual range missile capability. "

The now redundant plan to lease F-16 fighters was put forward by David Hart, a special adviser to Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence. John Major is believed to have intervened personally to stop the proposal.