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Ex-CEO says BAE's British future 'in doubt'

Also: Eurofighter development far from complete

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Turner, and his industry-body colleague Ian Godden of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, were also quizzed on their views regarding the long delayed DIS 2 plans - or even the possibility of a full strategic defence review (SDR) like that of 1998.

"A new SDR might deny [the world role seen for the UK in the 1998 document]," said Turner.

"We liked the DIS ... we don't want certainty today. We would get the wrong answer ... for a time we pushed for DIS 2. Now we don't think that's sensible ... we would lose too much", he added.

Godden said that "there is a balance between being in limbo [as we are now] ... and the wrong result. Industry does not wish to add to the pressures on the MoD at this moment ... we will wait."

Much of the discussion had centred on the fact that delays and uncertainty always tend to drive up the end cost to the taxpayer. This is a known truth with defence projects. Indeed the Defence Committee has previously suggested that if money can't be found to carry forward all existing projects as planned, it is better to cancel some and run the others properly - rather than keep running all of them badly, saving money in the short term but paying more in the end.

Turner was asked what he thought of the idea of cancellations as opposed to delays.

"We don't like it," he said. "We like the DIS".

The always knotty issue of arms exports also came up. Naturally the industry men were in favour of these, but considered that only government backing at the start could make them viable.

"It would be useful to have products," said Turner, bemoaning the fact that at present BAE factories have very little role in the British Army's FRES armour programme - and that there are no firm plans for a future generation of Royal Navy frigates. BAE owns the UK shipyard industry as well as the tank factories.

Turner also appeared to suggest that the incredibly expensive Eurofighter superjet - now reaching RAF service after more than twenty years in development at a projected acquisition cost of at least £20bn - was far from complete, and would be difficult to export in large numbers as it now stands.

This is because the Eurofighter, dubbed "Typhoon" by the RAF, was designed as a pure air-to-air combat plane. It has had some "austere" air-to-ground abilities bolted on lately. However, making it into a proper multi-role jet which would actually be saleable (to other people than the RAF and the Saudis) will require a lot more money to be spent - according to Turner.

"I appeal to the MoD to finish the job on Typhoon," he said, still speaking about export possibilities.

It would seem that reports pointing to a final UK Typhoon pricetag of £25bn+ weren't exaggerated. In the scenario called for by Turner, the RAF would mothball a lot of its current Batch 1 and 2 Typhoons, mainly operating the full-fat multi-role Batch 3s - the same type that BAE would be selling to overseas customers at competitive prices.

Meanwhile, each of the RAF's future, perhaps 140-strong operational Typhoon fleet would have cost the UK taxpayers better than £175m. ®

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