John Key shoots down return of air strike capability

The Government has no plans to restore the Air Force's strike wing, and it is "extremely unlikely" that any jet training capability will be maintained, Prime Minister John Key said yesterday.

"I would have thought the Defence Force has much greater priorities," he said when asked about comments by new Defence Minister Wayne Mapp.

Dr Mapp indicated the Government might look at bringing the decommissioned Aermacchi jet trainers back into service.

The Labour Government axed the 17 Aermacchi jets and the combat wing of 17 Skyhawk fighter bombers in 2001.

The Skyhawks have been in storage since then waiting for a buyer, but the Aermacchis have been regularly flown to keep them operational.

An American company's bid to buy the aircraft for $155 million was blocked by the American State Department.

Dr Mapp's office was asked under the Official Information Act if there was a move to restore the Aermacchis to operational service so they could work with the Army and the Navy.

He responded that a defence white paper to be completed next year would "provide a process to consider whether it is desirable to retain some level of jet training capability".

But Mr Key was clear at a press conference: "There are no plans to restore the Skyhawks and the air strike wing," he said.

Mr Mapp said the sale process for the Skyhawks was continuing.

"Two companies are bidding for US Department of Defence contracts for air training support, which would require the use of ex-RNZAF aircraft.

"If either of these companies is successful, the US State Department and the US Department of Defence have undertaken to fast-track approval for the sale of the aircraft," Mr Mapp said.

- NZPA

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