Day after axing regiments, Hoon boasts of £4.3bn warplane order
GEOFF Hoon rubbed salt into the wounds of those regiments axed in defence cuts yesterday when he placed an order for a further 89 Eurofighters, part of a project on which the Ministry of Defence has blown £3 billion more than it intended.
The cost of the ill-fated Eurofighter project has spiralled out of control, from an estimated 16 billion when it was first approved to more than 19 billion at the last count, and the first planes were five years late entering service.
The project ran another 130 million over budget last year alone - enough to keep the four regiments axed by Mr Hoon on Thursday running for two years. Mr Hoon said the multi-role Typhoon - the plane’s official name - would form a "cornerstone" of the RAF’s future capability.
But the MoD has faced criticism for pressing ahead with a project designed initially to tackle a Cold War air threat when the new danger comes from terrorists and states without the air power that the planes were intended to combat.
With such a role now largely redundant, the planes which Mr Hoon accepted yesterday will be adapted to a ground-attack role.
But in another blow to the UK defence industry the MoD has shunned a bid from BAE Systems Avionics to build the necessary targeting pods in Edinburgh, and is instead in the process of finalising a deal with an Israeli company.
The Save The Scottish Regiments campaign accused Mr Hoon of squandering the defence budget on badly-run projects whose cost and time overruns had forced the MoD into making cuts to other vital sections of the country’s armed forces, most notably in the infantry. "It is very nice to see that Mr Hoon’s Christmas present of hi-tech toys have arrived," said Jeff Duncan, the campaign’s organiser.
"He would have done far better to spend the money on securing employment for all six Scottish regiments for many years to come. No doubt all six regiments, in particular The Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, will be looking at this with astonishment."
Campaigners are due to take to the streets of Edinburgh today with a march along Princes Street followed by a rally.
But yesterday Mr Hoon insisted that the 4.3 billion deal for 89 of the fighters - which have been described by some as a "white elephant" because of delays and cost overruns in the first orders of the four-nation deal - was in the best interests of all the services.
"This is all about equipping our armed services with the best technology and the best equipment to allow them to carry out their duties. We are providing an improved effectiveness for all the services," he said.
The deal ends two years of speculation over whether the "second tranche" of Eurofighters would ever get signed. The project is already estimated to be six years late and costs have trebled Europe-wide.
Mr Hoon said the latest order would create or safeguard 16,000 jobs and added: "These planes will give our armed forces another excellent piece of equipment to complement their world-famous professionalism and courage."
The MoD allocated 91 million for developing the pods, but it is now believed to have ditched the plans and is negotiating a deal to buy systems from Israel’s Rafael Armament Development Authority.
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