Douglas Barrie/LONDON

KEY PROCUREMENT programmes for the Royal Air Force have become embroiled in an internal battle within the UK Government, with the Treasury advocating delays or cuts.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was pushing for decisions on two air-launched missile programmes and a replacement maritime-patrol aircraft (RMPA) for the British Aerospace Nimrod MR2, before the UK Parliament breaks for its summer recess on 25 July.

Decisions have been repeatedly delayed on a series of other programmes, including a conventional stand off missile and an air-launched anti-armour weapon.

As Flight International went to press there was considerable speculation that an announcement could be made on 23 July, although some industry sources warned that the package could slip beyond the UK Parliament's summer break.

In what is described by sources as a "political battle", defence minister Michael Portillo and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke are at loggerheads over the orders. Clarke is looking for savings, while Portillo is determined to push the decisions through.

British Aerospace and Boeing, are understood to have been selected, to meet the RMPA requirement with their Nimrod 2000 offer, in preference to Lockheed Martin and GEC-Marconi.

Several industry sources, however, have suggested that the MoD will direct Bae, to include GEC mission-system avionics on the Nimrod 2000.

Informal discussions between BAe and GEC senior management have already taken place. GEC-Marconi is likely to win Staff Requirement (Air) 1236 for an anti-armour missile with its Brimstone offer, if the procurement survives being axed.

If Portillo is forced into a compromise by Clarke, industry sources say that SR(A) 1238 is the most likely victim of a delay or cancellation. That would harm the RAF's BAe Harrier, GR7 fleet effectively leaving the aircraft, without stand off anti-armour weapons.

BAe and Matra are favoured to win the RAF competition for a stand-off cruise missile with the Storm Shadow derivative of the Matra Apache, despite the missile being more expensive than either the Daimler-Benz Aerospace/Bofors KEPD-350 or the McDonnell Douglas Grand Slam Plus. The Treasury, however, could also object to a decision, which goes in favour of BAe.

Source: Flight International