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Nimrod aircraft 'could become scrap metal'

RAF Nimrod MRA4
Image caption Nine Nimrod MRA4 were being built at BAE Systems in Woodford, Cheshire

Nine multi-million pound Nimrod aircraft could be turned into scrap metal, BAE Systems unions have claimed.

David Cameron announced that the replacement Nimrod MRA4 surveillance and reconnaissance planes project would be scrapped in the Defence Review.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was in discussions with BAE Systems about the future of the aircraft.

One has already been built and eight others were being worked on at the firm's plant in Woodford, Cheshire.

The prime minister said the project had cost more than £3bn.

Keith French, Unite chairman at the site, said: "It looks like they are going to cut them up.

'Chop wings off'

"They will probably bring in a big company to crush them and cut them up, chop their wings off. It will be as crude as that.

"It will be the most expensive scrap metal they will have ever paid for.

"It is such a waste of money - why would you pay almost £4bn and not put the planes into service?"

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "We intend to discuss the way ahead with industry but we can not say how the MRA4 will be disposed of at this point."

Image caption BAE staff are continuing to work as normal

The MoD and BAE signed a contract in 1996 to build 21 planes. This was reduced to 12 and later nine.

Mr French said one of the "Spy in the Sky" planes had been completed. Five others are in the late stages of production.

All were due to be handed over to the RAF by 2012.

About 1,000 people are working on the project at Woodford and another 200 at Brough, East Yorkshire.

A further 500 in Warton, Lancashire, were due to support the planes in service.

Staff at Woodford are being asked to work as normal, with many feeling they are "in limbo", Mr French said.

A BAE spokesman said: "We are now working through the detailed programme implications of the changes... with the MoD.

"Until we've had the time to do so, we will not be in a position to confirm any more details regarding individual sites or programmes."

Mr French said staff would be "heartbroken" to see the aircraft broken up.

'Big hole'

"When you see it fly you are proud - proud of what you've helped build and how it can defend the UK," he said.

He said scrapping the planes would leave a "big hole" in the UK's defences.

Local MP Mark Hunter said he had spoken to the defence secretary about the site and was told the MoD would be "looking to stop [production] as soon as possible".

Mr Hunter said he was told the planes could not be sold as there was a "limited market" for such aircraft.

"They might end up being scrapped," he said.

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