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 ’80s 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 an 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 equipment 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, as 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 let’s be honest that it is being driven by costs and look properly.

I might be guilty of oversimplification 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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