LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has agreed a $180 million deal to sell 72 retired Harrier aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps for use as spare parts, a British minister said on Thursday.
The sale’s announcement came during a lengthy parliamentary debate when Harrier maker BAE Systems, Europe’s biggest defence contractor, was criticised for not doing more to safeguard British jobs.
“We have agreed the sale of the final 72 Harrier aircraft frames and associated parts which will be used as a major source of spares for the U.S. Marine Corps Harrier AV-8B fleet of aircraft,” defence equipment minister Peter Luff told parliament.
“The value of the sale is around $180 million, (equal to) some 110 million pounds, and represents a good deal both for UK taxpayers and the US government,” he said.
Britain’s BAE in September said it would cut nearly 3,000 jobs in Britain as smaller global defence budgets hit orders for its fighter jets.
The job losses are a blow to Britain’s Conservative-led government, which wants to remedy flagging economic growth by boosting the manufacturing sector and reducing the economy’s reliance on financial services.
During a parliamentary debate several senior politicians urged BAE to do more to safeguard British manufacturing jobs, accusing the firm of not doing enough in return for decades of government equipment orders and other support.
“BAE needs to avoid being a mid-Atlantic floating entity and demonstrate that it’s a British company that cares about British society and British jobs,” said opposition Labour party lawmaker Alan Johnson.
BAE had no immediate comment.
The British government retired its Harrier fleet as part of sweeping defence cuts announced last year.
“Added to the savings made from retiring the Harrier fleet from service, this sale takes the total estimated receipts and savings to the Ministry of Defence to around one billion pounds,” Luff said.
He said this money would allow Britain to invest in more modern and capable aircraft, including Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter.
Defence spending cuts in Britain and the United States, the world’s biggest arms market, which accounts for about half of BAE sales, have squeezed the company.
Jobs in traditional arms-producing countries are also under pressure from purchasing nations that insist that equipment they buy should at least partly be manufactured in their own country.
“This is certainly a feature of many of the potential Typhoon and Hawk export orders .... It is a fact of life. If you want to win business, this is the way we have to do business,” Luff said.
The Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet is manufactured by BAE in partnership with defence firms in Germany, Italy and Spain.
All partner nations have slowed production rates to ease budget pressures.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Mohammed Abbas and Helen Massy-Beresford)