DEFENCE – AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AND NO-FLY ZONES – 14 November 2011
Dr Julian Lewis: Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the difference – the important distinction – between mounting a no-fly zone and mounting long-range bombing raids in active intervention in a civil war? The latter is what we did in the Libya campaign, and no one would have doubted we could do that from land bases. However, does he not appreciate that a no-fly zone, which involves lengthy routine patrols and the suppression of air defences over a long period, would have been far better mounted from aircraft carriers? It is very important that we do not draw the wrong conclusions from the slightly triumphalist tone that both he and the Prime Minister have adopted in this matter.
[The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): I hesitate to disagree with my hon. Friend because I know he is very knowledgeable about these matters and I am still a fair way down a steep learning curve. However, I have to say to him that, in the early phases of the Libya campaign, Typhoon operations were mounted in support of the no-fly zone with a view to potentially having to engage in air-to-air operations. From the briefing I have had, my understanding is that it is perfectly possible to mount such an operation from a base that is the distance that Gioia del Colle was from Libyan airspace. Clearly, my hon. Friend is right: if we were seeking to mount an air exclusion operation in a location that was much further away from friendly bases, there would be greater difficulties.]