Gonna Get Me Some Cold War Relics

What with the massed ranks of analysts, defence journalists and coalition politicians gunning for those thousands of cold war relics we have sitting idle just waiting for the chop, it’s time to see what they mean.

A cynic might think that getting rid of cold war relics is simply a smokescreen, hiding budget driven cuts behind a veil of forward thinking modernity, but are any journalists challenging the Government on this, of course not, as we posted in our quick resume of the last piece of drivel from the Telegraph.

When was the Cold War anyway?

There might be many points during which one could have declared the start and end of the cold war but for arguments sake lets just say it was between 1950 and 1990, so any weapon system that was either introduced or conceived during this period is therefore a relic and ready for withdrawal.

The term is also characterised by those types of equipment or forces that would have supported the United Kingdom’s primary missions during a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, anti submarine, nuclear weapons, armoured formations and deep strike fighters plus a bit of amphibious and cold weather capabilities.

Royal Air Force

Typhoon, the Eurofighter Typhoon first flew in 1994 which was after the end of the cold war but clearly it is a product of that era. Designed to replace both the Tornado Air Defence variant and Jaguar (journalists take note, Jaguar was a ground attack aircraft) it has been in service since 2003.

Last seen, defending the UK and Falklands airspace

Tornado, the Panavia Tornado first flew in 1974 the Tornado was one of the first multirole aircraft with varied missions but one of the main ones were air defence and low level penetration of enemy airspace to deliver anti runway cratering munitions.

Last seen, providing close air support and ISR for UK and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, did the same in Iraq and the Balkans

Harrier, first flew in 1967 and had a classic Cold War mission, operating from austere airfields in Western Germany because the main ones would have been destroyed the Harrier was to provide strike capabilities in support of operations to defeat or slow down an advancing soviet force.

Last seen, providing close air support and ISR for UK and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, did the same in Iraq, Sierra Leone, the Falklands and the Balkans

Sentry AEW1, in service since 1996 after the much commented Nimrod AEW was cancelled it provides an airborne early warning and battlespace management function in addition to acting as a communications hub.

Last seen, supporting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans

Sentinel R1, entering service in 2008 it has its origins in the CAPTOR programme of 80’s and provides a ground scanning radar set that provides enhanced battlefield surveillance.

Last seen, providing ISR for UK and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, especially in the Counter IED mission

Nimrod, introduced in 1969 the latest variant is due in service this year and provides maritime surveillance, anti submarine and other capabilities in support of the Trident carrying submarines.

Last seen, providing communications, maritime surveillance and ISR support for UK and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, did the same in Iraq, the Falklands and the Balkans, not forgetting providing extended range air sea rescue and protection of UK offshore assets

Chinook/Puma, Chinook and Puma were first introduced between the seventies and eighties they obviously provide vertical lift and transport for personnel, vehicles and stores.

Last Seen, in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans

Hercules, the RAF have a number of versions introduced over a long period

Last Seen, in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans

Tristar/VC10, although the VC10 has been in service much longer than the Tristar they were both introduced some time ago and provide air transport and airborne refuelling

Last Seen, in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans

Royal Navy

HMS Ocean and Invincible Class, based broadly on the same hull form the Invincible calls are due to be replaced with CVF

Last Seen, in operations off Iraq, and Sierra Leone

Type 42/45 destroyer, first introduced in 1975 they are due to be replaced by the new Type 45 and provide area air defence

Last Seen, in operations off Iraq and various standing parols

Type 22/23 Frigate, entering service from 1979 the frigate provides surface and sub surface warfare capabilities

Last Seen, in operations off Iraq and various standing parols

Trafalgar Class Submarine, entering service in 1984 the Trafalgar class SSN is being replaced by the new Astute class

Last Seen, supporting the initial stages of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq


Challenger 2, replacing the Challenger 1 main battle tank which was in service in 1983 the Challenger is one of the most powerful tanks in the world

Last Seen, in operations in Iraq and the Balkans

Warrior, supporting the Challenger 2 in armoured infantry regiments it entered service in the early 80’s

Last Seen, in operations in Iraq, Balkans and Afghanistan

Armoured Recovery and Engineering, Titan and Trojan are armoured engineer and bridging vehicles but they replaced earlier Chieftan based vehicles.

Last Seen, in operations in Iraq, Balkans and Afghanistan

CVR(T), a range of light armoured vehicles in the formation recce role, first introduced in the seventies

Last Seen, in operations in the Falklands, Iraq, Balkans and Afghanistan

AS90, replacing the Abbot self propelled artillery vehicle the AS90 uses a 155mm cannon

Last Seen, in operations in Iraq and the Balkans

What to Cut

It should be clear from the above that most of the major equipments in all three services have seen action in multiple conflicts since the end of the cold war, so the notion that we have loads of cold war relics just sitting idle in storage sheds is, like much of the output from the mainstream media and the new government, is, I am afraid, complete and utter bollocks!

If we really want to look at what capabilities we can reduce then lets me honest that it is being driven by costs and look properly.

I might be guilty of over simplification here, there is no doubt that in the context of a declining budget and changing operational and strategic outlook we need to seriously look at what capabilities are useful and adjust accordingly. There is a case for a reduction in heavy armour, attack aircraft and frigates but not too deep a cut because there is no doubt that those legacy capabilities everyone and his ill informed dog are baying for tend to be rather useful in all spectrum of conflict.

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July 10, 2010 10:02 pm

The thing that really drives me bananas right now is when people start talking about cutting Typhoon. There’s an argument to be had that if we had our time again we shouldn’t have gone for it, but the reality is that he ship has sailed on the issue. It’s here. We’ve got them. The final tranche is well advanced. Yet there still seems to be a notion in some quarters that we could just pull the plug, if only the powers that be weren’t so blinkered. For good or for ill, we’re way beyond that point now. Move on.

The impression I get from talking to various people in uniform is that one of the most viable aviation cuts to make would be to accelerate the draw-down of the Tornado. Typhoon is here to stay. Harrier is very flexible, remains popular and is still surprisingly capable, having had quite a lot of UOR resources pumped into it. It also has the flexibility to plug the gap maritime-wise if the F-35B doesn’t work out. Tornado is not ideal, fairly manpower-heavy to operate, costs a lot to run and really isn’t ideally suited to the conditions in A’stan.

Phil Darley
July 11, 2010 10:09 am

Anthony, it really bugs me to. The Typhoon is a superb aircraft and Tranche 3a/3b are needed urgently as these are the versions that offer the full air/ground capability. It would make more sense to sell off ALL the trance 1 and 2 aircraft and replace with Tranche 3b, say 150. We could then retire the Tornado’s. I would keep a handful for the RAAF as a reserve.

I would also seriously consider a final development of the harrier, call it FRS3. take the GR9a and add the blue vixen or ebven better Captor/Caesor radar and the avionics from the F35 (which has already been fitted to a Harrier for testing). Add Mauser 27mm cannon and a few other avionics upgrades from say the Typhoon/F35 and kick the F35b in to touch.

With regard to CVF, it needs to be configured as cat/trap from day one and equipped with a version of the Rafale (if possible enlarged to accept the EJ200 series engine and the Caeser radar)!!!I know it will never happen but it would be the dream solution, certainly better the F35b or even F35C.

Oh well one cam only dream!!!!

July 11, 2010 11:08 am

The problem with Typhoon is not that it isnt good enough, its that its too good.

We arent dogfighting front line soviet jets, deepstriking against their airfields and pummeling armour formations.

We’re fighting a COINish war thats already lasted a decade.
A decent amount of fire support thats currently done by fast air could be done by artillery dispersed to patrol bases, light helicopters with door gunners, Turbo props, UAV’s and who knows, airships?
For fractions of the cost, allowing whats really needed, more men (with a sane strategy obviously).

Regarding drawing down Tornado, A Typhoon Airframe gets about 6000 hours before it falls apart in mid air.
Even with the reduced operational numbers, if we keep hammering them like we are at the moment, they’ll be worn out in 15 years not 30.

July 11, 2010 3:05 pm

Hi again, after my last rambling post i followed your advice & have been doing a lot more reading of your site & other sites.

Supposedly, the defence budget is $69 Billion.
It looks like a large chunk of that gets spent on design studies that, to my mind, seek to re-invent or re-design the wheel.

If we really must save money, then i’d say this to the MoD……Ok for the next 5 years, you must buy at least 80% of all equipment off the shelf or as an UOR. If you can stick to that, & prove that you have stuck to it,then we will review the situation. I think we spend way to much on R&D for to few units of whatever kit we are talking about.

Looking at Jed’s idea for the C2 ships, why wouldn’t the navy want ships like that ?
For the C1 ship, we are going to spend another £127 million on yet another design study….at the end of which the navy will be lucky to get 5 or 6 ships.

I know i seem very pessimistic but i do not have much confidence in the ability of the personel at the MoD to just make a decision.
I get the impression that for our Military, the future is always just around the corner.

Do you think the MoD has got the NIH syndrome ?

One other thing, if you have a crazy idea who do you ask about it ?

July 11, 2010 3:31 pm

quick thought.


July 12, 2010 2:35 pm

Although I agree with commentors below, and have no issue with Typhoon, I would cut overall combat aircraft numbers, IF it meant more frigates, because I disagree with Admin on:

“There is a case for a reduction in heavy armour, attack aircraft and frigates”

There is no case what-so-ever in my mind for a further reduction in general purpose / multi-role surface units (that also have a “high end” warfighting role).

With respect to fitting the CVF with cats and traps, yep, and buy the E-2D and add enough to replace the E3 Sentry – we might even generate some cash by selling the Sentry fleet to US / NATO / France.

Michael I totally agree with you. Force MoD to buy MOTS / COTS without the ridiculous “we have to design our own, because our needs are different” OR
“we need to keep the design capability” – UK armed forces are below critical mass to use them any more as an excuse for keeping some tiny element of strategic capability on a shoe string budget. If you want to retain a ‘strategic capability’ such as nuclear submarine design, or top-notch fighter jet design, then you have to fund appropriately !

Sven Ortmann
July 13, 2010 9:56 am

The UK should rethink whether it needs a large navy or not. The Empire is long gone, the Russians pose no large naval threat any more.

The British are no more dependent on maritime trade than the continental powers save for the intra-European maritime trade that’s not being threatened.

The British army came historically weak into major conflicts, had to expand quickly (with all associated quality problems). This pattern was repeated against Napoleon, during the Crimean War and in both World Wars.

A point could be made that the UK should rethink whether its historical balance of forces (strong navy, small army) is a tradition worth to be continued under the present and likely future circumstances.

July 13, 2010 11:37 am

The reason we have a navy and Prussia has an army is that you can walk to prussia but must sail to england.

We have the choice.

We can choose to box with mike tyson, or we can choose to, this isnt working.

No bugger else can have a navy because they need an army, we can have a navy because dont need an army.

July 13, 2010 2:13 pm

Sven and Admin

I have to disagree and the facts and figures back it up. We might not be “any more” dependent upon maritime trade than other continental European states, but the UK is MASSIVELY dependent upon maritime trade, so perhaps some of those other states are equally sea blind, or actually spend their money more sensibly than we do.

And it’s not just about trade. When it comes down to it sea power means you can traverse 3 thirds of the worlds surface to project force without stepping on anyones toes. You can maneuver in the “global commons” and to be honest Sven, some things have simply not changed since Wellington took on Napoleon in the Peninsular war; sea based logistics are a necessity – especially as the UK will never be able to afford enough air lift to do things any other way. Also I think there is the figure that something like 70% of the worlds population lives within 200NM of a coast line, giving plenty of dual use opportunities for your navy / support flotilla to get involved in “soft power” and “defence diplomacy” type missions, not to mention disaster relief.

All that apart – if we ‘traditionally’ have a strong navy, and other continental European nations ‘traditionally’ have larger, stronger armies, then why not stick with that force mix within a NATO context. Why not sacrifice a large heavy Armour force at the altar of the gods of frigates, it Germany already has more, better equipped armoured forces ?

Strategically where do we expect to use our Army next ? If we get involved in another landlocked civil war with some rubbish about nation building and preempting terrorism, that lasts over 9 years, even the apathetic British public might rebel !

Pound sterling for pound of weight (or capability) the overall strategic cost benefit analysis is better if we return to an Army that is a weapon wielded by the Navy.

(and before I get flamed by ex-squaddies, yes I am ex-Navy, but I also did 6 years in the TA and am proud of my association with the Army!)

Sven Ortmann
July 13, 2010 2:48 pm

Jed; we’re working with a different set of assumptions.
To me, military = strategic defence.

Military = strategic offense (expeditions) leads of course to completely different assumptions.

I would never argue that a European army needs to be qualified for equatorial jungle fighting, for example.

We cannot enforce maritime trade through Suez and Red Sea. Gibraltar can easily be secured with coastal vessels, land-based assets and moderate ground forces.

The access to the Atlantic Ocean is simple; only the Americans or in the very long (15 yrs) term the Chinese could pose a challenge there.
Therefore, I don’t really see much need for a fleet.
Even IF the Arabs were united and even IF they had powerful air and naval forces – the primary means to counter that would be our air forces, some subs and MCM boats. Frigates and carriers would play a smallish role.

It’s similar with the Russians; even IF they would send hundreds of SSKs into the Atlantic Ocean one day one; we could shut down their bases in a matter of weeks (except Northern Siberian ones – damn climate change!) and restart shipping after a few months in relative safety. To build hundreds of frigates and subs would be an inferior response in comparison with more (versatile) air power.

July 13, 2010 3:27 pm

Ha ha – ROFL – can’t agree with a single word of that Sven, but as I am at work, a long response will have to wait till later – safe to say we will have to agree to disagree on this one, but like I said, its not all about maritime trade :-)

July 13, 2010 3:56 pm

“The access to the Atlantic Ocean is simple; only the Americans or in the very long (15 yrs) term the Chinese could pose a challenge there.”

Or the south americans.
Brazil operates a carrier and has plans to greatly expand its navy.

“Therefore, I don’t really see much need for a fleet.”
The Belgium option.
A military coastguard, a heavy TA and an airforce concentrating on shooting down incoming bombers, ships and escorting fighters.
Could cut military spending in half easily, no enemy can swim here, any who try and sail can de devestated by the airforce, and any who land will be cut off from supply and can be overwhelmed by the TA when its mobilised and massed two weeks later.
Its a fair option.

“To build hundreds of frigates and subs would be an inferior response in comparison with more (versatile) air power.”]
I think you underestimate the cost of airpower.

The RN’s helicopter fleet costs about £1.3bn a year, the escort fleet about £1.7bn, obviously not all the cost of helicopters is ASW duties, but neither is all the escort costs.
And the RN’s helicopters arent running 24/7 (neither are ships, but they spend more time operating)

July 13, 2010 6:13 pm

It’s a matter of choice. We choose to have an expeditionary capability. I happen to agree with the choice. CVF need not make the RN weaker. It is just of matter of aligning appropriate funding with competent planning and procurement. There is no reason that the UK cannot fund 2 carriers & airwing, 30 Frigates/Destroyers and a dozen submarines. We just don’t to pay three times over the odds for it!

July 13, 2010 7:06 pm

Carriers are not realistic platforms for breaching enemy home lands.
They’re ship killers.

Most mid level powers would laugh at a CVF unless it was accompanied by most of our escorts and the astutes with a heavy tomahawk loadout had just bombed all their airfields.

A bit like Turkish Artillery drove back the battleship squadron the entente sent to break through.

July 13, 2010 9:15 pm

Dominic said:

“Carriers are not realistic platforms for breaching enemy home lands.”

Thats overly simplistic – no single ship type is capable of everything. Try telling ex-Ba’ath party members or Terry Taliban who have been on the wrong end of USN / USMC carrier based “air power” that its “not realistic”.

Its about an holistic, all arms approach, and a carrier is still the most flexible unit in a modern navy. So CVF is not JUST about expeditionary warfare, but it sure as hell helps – especially if its got 4 x E2D and a decent number of Meteor equipped AV8B / Rafale / F18 / Sea-Gripen (delete as applicable)…..

Sven Ortmann
July 14, 2010 8:04 am

With the mission radius of land-based strike fighters with mid-air refuelling in mind, I doubt the CVF has any other good place in strategic (alliance) defence than air defence for Atlantic convoy lanes against threats like Badger & Bear.

The cost-effectiveness of RN plans in comparison to RAF plans is very doubtful.

July 15, 2010 6:26 pm


That is soooooo not true – it all depends on what you want to do ! There are many scenarios where there may not be bases close enough, even with AAR if “allies” close their bases / airspace to the RAF due to politics or actual out right hostilities.

Unless the RAF replaces Tornado with B1 / B2 / B17 (read C17 with “big rotary Tomahawk launcher” tm) or upgrades every existing Nimrod airframe for the “long range strike” role, then outside of a “defending mainland Europe / UK / NATO airspace” the RAF cannot possibly as flexible / cost effective as carrier based air power.

By the way I am not saying the actual CVF / F35C is particularly cost effective either !

July 15, 2010 7:29 pm

Its a tough issue.
Our carrier resources are, in my opinion, of extremely limited use if we wish to act alone, except in the situation Sven says, bashing enemy fleets in the deep ocean. Enemy home airforces of most powers would, as I say constantly, smack us out of the area.

But as Jed rightly says, foreign airbases can be denied, and lets face it, our “allies” have refused to sell us bullets before, let us run bombing operations form their airspace?

Its a conundrum.
Personaly, I have no preference