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25. Richard Ottaway: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with the Indian Government concerning the sale of Royal Navy Sea Harriers; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: The Ministry of Defence's Disposal Services Agency has not entered into any talks with the Indian Government with regard to the sale of Sea Harriers. However, as part of its marketing strategy for the sale of these aircraft, the DSA will follow up all expressions of interest subject, of course, to normal export controls.
Mr. Ingram: The total current number of aircraft in service with the Fleet Air Arm is 295. This figure includes those aircraft operated by Fleet Air Arm personnel serving in Naval Air Squadrons within both Joint Force Harrier and the Joint Helicopter Command.
Mr. Hoon: As of today we assess that there is currently no direct threat of attack by weapons of mass destruction to the United Kingdom. We do, however, continue to monitor developments very closely, particularly as they might affect British forces deployed in other parts of the world.
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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment has been made of the type of weapons of mass destruction that are most likely to be used by countries he has defined as of concern to the UK; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hoon: We monitor continuously the capabilities of countries which possess, or are seeking to acquire, weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver or use them. Currently we assess that none of the countries we are monitoring has the specific intention to use them against the United Kingdom. Should a direct threat materialise, its exact nature will depend on the capabilities of the country concerned and the political and military context in which it arises.
Our assessment of the weapons of mass destruction programmes of a number of countries was included in our "Supplementary Memorandum to the House of Commons Defence Committee: The Ballistic Missile Threat" of 18 March 2002.
Dr. Moonie: Royal Ordnance Defence, the UK's major producer of munitions to the armed forces, has been operating against a background of sharp decline in the world-wide demand for defence equipment over the last 15 years. Like any other commercial company competing in world markets, it has had to take the hard decisions necessary to optimise its manufacturing capacity to remain viable and competitive in this sector. The Ministry of Defence is aware that the company is currently conducting a manufacturing review, focusing particularly on its sites at Birtley, Bridgwater and Chorley.
While the final result of this review is not yet known, I am able to inform the House that Royal Ordnance Defence has recently announced that it intends to pursue a consolidation option at the Birtley site. Although, regrettably, there will be some job losses over a period of years, the company expects that this option will secure the future of the site as part of its core business.
They have also informed MOD that they intend to invest heavily in a number of sites across the United Kingdom. Royal Ordnance Defence are retaining expertise in the crucial areas of propellant charge design at Bishopton, ordnance engineering design at Leicester, and small arms ammunition design and manufacture at Radway Green near Crewe, as well as investing substantially in its filling, assembly and packaging plant at Glascoed. There is no doubt that the company does possess and plans to retain world-class research and development personnel and production facilities in the United Kingdom.
19. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what measures he is taking to improve retention in the armed forces; and what progress has been made in the last 12 months to address the shortfall in numbers for each of the services. 
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Mr. Ingram: The achievement of manning balance is being tackled as a matter of the highest priority. In particular we have introduced a number of initiatives aimed at improving retention. Although there are variations between the Services, the overall manning position is stabilising.
Mr. Hoon: The United Kingdom has led, and has made a substantial contribution to, the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul since its inception. Our troops have been widely praised for their work in helping the Interim Administration to maintain security and stability in Kabul as the Afghans begin the rebuilding of their shattered country.
The United Kingdom has led, and has made a substantial contribution to, the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul since its inception. Our troops have been widely praised for their work in helping the Interim Administration to maintain security and stability in Kabul as the Afghans begin the rebuilding of their shattered country.
A battlegroup formed around 45 Commando Royal Marines has been deployed to Bagram to contribute to the international coalition's continuing operations to defeat the remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Mr. Hoon: I continue to have regular discussions with my NATO colleagues about operations in Afghanistan. All members of the coalition are committed to the fight against international terrorism, and to supporting the Afghan Interim Administration as the Afghans begin the rebuilding of their country.
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32. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many air transport sorties in support of British forces' operations in the Afghanistan theatre have been flown in chartered Antonov heavy lift aircraft. 
Mr. Hoon: The planning for operations in Afghanistan included detailed work to establish a number of clear, reliable measures to minimise the risks of friendly fire incidents. All coalition forces operate in accordance with strict Rules of Engagement and British forces operate in their own area of responsibility with equipment to ensure that they have accurate positioning information. Additionally, individuals and vehicles are clearly marked using indicators that are visible by day and at night through night vision aids.
There is also a close working relationship between coalition forces, with liaison officers placed at all levels in headquarters and in lower formations. Procedures to co-ordinate fire and air support have been established at the Coalition Combined Air Operations Centre and at Divisional and Brigade Headquarters and several lines of communications are also in place (including satellite- based equipment) to allow close co-ordination between headquarters, troops on the ground and aircraft to ensure deconfliction.
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