So, what’s it to be, Harriers or Tornadoes?
If the Harrier goes now, massive investment in upgrades (Capability E) down the pan and more importantly nothing to fly off the current CVS’s or new Queen Elizabeth. That said, they are knackered and due out of service in 8 years, theoretically, when the FJCA F35B comes into service. Loss of STVOL will expose risks and mean carrier fast jet aviation from Royal Navy vessels will be on holiday for nearly a decade, unless of course, we are very nice to the USMC, Spanish and Italians. We only have 2 squadrons of Harrier’s in service so the cost savings would be much smaller than the much larger fleet of Tornadoes.
If the Tornado goes now, despite the £947m support contract a much bigger saving of they all go than if all the Harriers go but the serious loss of capability for the RAF, Storm Shadow, Raptor, gun etc. Tornado is also cheaper to run per hour than Harrier. What will be providing CAS and Combat ISR in Afghanistan, is putting Harrier back into theatre really feasible and would this have the longevity to last the full mission whilst providing any meaningful contingent for carrier missions?
The long term plan has always been to consolidate on 2 aircraft types, Typhoon and FJCA so getting rid of the Harrier and Tornado is not a tragedy in the long term because that’s the plan.
Going early creates serious problems though but if we must achieve big savings then trimming a bit here and a bit there is going to achieve much less than withdrawing a complete type. Cutting the Harrier means we lose any naval aviation capability until CVF and FJCA make an appearance but cutting the Tornado means the RAF becomes unable to support on an enduring basis any expeditionary obligations i.e. Afghanistan and results in several capability losses that could not be recovered without even more spending on Typhoon.
There really are no good options.
If it has to be one or the other then I would veer to getting rid of Harrier because operations in Afghanistan must take priority, yes Tornado might not be as suitable in some regards as the Harrier but it brings many other capabilities that are making a difference now and Harrier operations in Afghanistan for the next 5 years may be too much of a risk to take.
Perhaps there is some middle ground
1. Form one large Harrier squadron and consolidate JFH to keep the maritime aviation role covered for skills retention and emergencies, even at a reduced level.
2. Reduce Tornado by some considerable margin but ensure commitments in Afghanistan can be covered on an enduring basis.
3. Push air to ground weapon integration as far and fast as possible on the Typhoon’s we have and those coming into service
Looks like it’s the Harriers