Nimrod aircraft scrapped at Stockport BAE factory

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Media captionUnite's John Fussey described the dismantling as 'barbaric vandalism'

Work on the controversial scrapping of nine multimillion-pound Nimrod aircraft is under way at a BAE Systems factory in Greater Manchester.

Diggers moved in to dismantle the empty aircraft behind large screens at BAE Woodford, Stockport, on Wednesday.

Unions have criticised the decision to break-up the planes, which is costing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) £200m.

A spokesman for the MoD said ministers had made it clear that the "difficult" decision would not be reversed.

The dismantling process is being carried out by private contractors at the site and is expected to be completed by the end of March.

'Defence gap'

Unite national officer Bernie Hamilton said: "The lunatics have taken over the asylum when the government orders the Ministry of Defence to break up £4bn worth of world-class defence equipment.

Image caption The Nimrod aircraft carry sophisticated radars and listening equipment

"The decision to scrap the Nimrod leaves a huge gap in the UK's defence capability and is a betrayal of the workers that played a part in its manufacture."

The Nimrod MRA4 surveillance and reconnaissance planes were being built at BAE Systems sites in Stockport, Lancashire and East Yorkshire.

The project was ditched by the government in October's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and will save the MoD an estimated £2bn over the next 10 years.

'Financial pressure'

An MoD spokesman said: "Ministers and service chiefs have made clear that the decision in October's SDSR not to bring the Nimrod MRA4 into service was difficult, but it will not be reversed and the dismantling process is under way.

"The severe financial pressures and the urgent need to bring the defence programme into balance meant we could not retain all existing programmes."

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

All were due to be handed over to the RAF by 2012, but the project was scrapped in an effort to save money.

A spokesman for BAE said: "Disposal of the Nimrod MRA4 airframes which are located at Woodford and Warton is the responsibility of the UK MoD as they own them.

"We can confirm that they have appointed specialist contractors Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd and Hill Demolition and Dismantling to carry out this work which has now started."

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