THE Eurofighter programme on which tens of thousands of Lancashire jobs depend has hit teething problems, it was claimed today.

The Ministry of Defence is withholding part of its payments to BAE Systems for the Eurofighter until continuing delays are resolved.

The aircraft was due to enter service this summer, but that target has slipped and defesnce chiefs are keeping back money from BAE, it was claimed.

Radio 4's Today programme said that even when the plane did enter service, the first Eurofighters would remain at BAE's Samlesbury site for a further two years for testing -- with the RAF setting up a base in a corner of the factory, allowing the MoD to be able to claim that the aircraft had entered service.

But Bruce George, the Labour MP who chairs the House of Commons defence select committee, saidsituation was not as bad as it appeared.

"It is a very very good aircraft, it will sell well, and it is the cornerstone of the RAF's offensive and defensive capability for decades and decades ahead," he said.

"Clearly there has been some slippage in the programme, but it doesn't come as a total surprise.

"June was the date they were moving towards, but it may slip. But the programme is not in deep trouble.

"Delays, I'm afraid, in these complicated processes are inevitable. It is not desperate, it is not as bad as it appears."