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Who Goes, You Decide

Brimstone Tornado

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

H/T Andy

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42 Responses

  1. I do not see how they can do away with Harrier. They must retain them for CVS. As for Tornado they need these airframes in Afghanistan, perhaps, to spin out the lifespan of the Harriers too. I like to think that I can come up with viable operational options but have to admit I know not one jot about airframe lifespans or upgrade costs.
    My guess is (being used to British make do and mend) much reduced Tornado GR4 fleet, enough to keep Afg going until 2015: with Harrier life extended (by less deployment to Afg) until we get a delivery of F18E/F with E2 for the CVF’s. These will be replaced by F35C’s flown by FAA and RAF (to replace GR4). I really believe that VSTOL for future shape of British defence is now not needed. I may be wrong but surely Harrier was really for Germany and only later allowed the Navy to return to FW at sea because a good case was made?
    Next week will tell??!!!

  2. Am I right in saying that recently, two squadrons of Harriers have been withdrawn from service as well as one squadron of Tornado GR4s?

    Personally I thought that cutting the Harriers was a mistake and the axe should have fell more sharply on the Tornadoes. This would have been better for several reasons, including the fact that the Harrier force was already to small to comfortably meet training requirements, CVF deployements and another possible rotation into Afghan theater. Meanwhile, the Tornado force could be seen as larger than neccesary.

    I read a parliamentary debate recently that critised the replacement of Harriers with Tornadoes in Afganistan recently on the basis that the Tornado had been proving to be twice as labour intensive in terms of maintenence while also highlighting the waste in spending UOR upgradeson Harriers and then requiring yet more UOR costs for the Tornadoes to be used in Afghanistan.

    Rotation of Tornadoes in theather has however, been helpful in freeing up Harriers to get on with some CVF training. My question is (and it isn’t rhethorical by the way) how many Harriers does he current fleet stand at?

    My suggestion would be to cut the Tornado force from its current 130-140 to about 70 while keeping the Harrier force at what was, before at least, about 70. Included in this should be all of the GR4As to remove a complete subtype. The GR4As sensors are perhaps made obsolete by the RAPTOR and Sniper pods and the presence of a cannon is more useful in todays operations.

    This would mean that any outstanding upgrades (I am not sure how far through the progression of upgrades the Tornadoes are) would be cheaper to implement as there would be significantly fewer aircraft to upgrade.

    While losing the Harrier would perhaps save more money in that an entire type is removed, it would be ashame to see all that money on Harrier upgrades to be for nothing and also, retaining STOVL carrier training is a useful thing to keep and keeps our options open for future options with CVF and JCA etc. I would expect a decision to change to a CTOL JCA would be followed by the end of the Harrier fleet and perhaps, in that scenario, it would make complete sense.

  3. Loosing Harrier is only going to save £ 1 billion. The sheer embarasment it would cause to the goverment for having aircraft carriers with no aircraft will be enough for the government to by pass this decision not to mention getting rid of harrier is like getting rid of the spitfire. Tornado going now saves £7.5 billion. I do agree that we need something to cover afghanistan. Keeping a smaller number of GR4’s until the Typhoon Tranche 3’s can be fully integrated with all of the Tornado’s weapons and sensors seems the only viable option.

  4. Keep Harrier, but cut Tornado, and continue – or better yet expand – Typhoon Tranche 3. TT3 can “do” IDS if needed with Storm Shadow or other stand-off types.

    So Harrier *is* needed for CVF, but considering the high number of combat flying hours it is accumulating, it may not be in the cards to keep it much longer around…


  5. Marcase, yes it can do, but it hasn’t been cleared for Storm Shadow yet (I think) which means an additional cost

  6. what does tornado do that typhoon doesnt?
    Or perhaps cant would be the better question.

    I just dont get the drive to keep tornado when its coming at the cost of function typhoon.

  7. Perhaps, as the author suggests, it really will be a who and not a what.

    Fox, service chiefs…… I guess we shall see. In the final analysis:

    Have we had a review in which Defence has emerged in a stronger position?

    Has the last Friday farting about delivered a considered, coherent, long-term direction for Defence policy that is achievable and sustainable?

    If the answer to each of the above is no, what can the architects of the settlement do?

    Dr Fox made great play about the need to act ruthlessly and without sentiment when launching his review – for that is what this is.

  8. Dominij, the Typhoon has a poor Recon/Intel capability at this time…the Tornado has RATOR which is a huge intelligence capability, think of Lightning but even better. Its a huge asset in the style of operations at the moment. AT this time Typhoon has few assests like the Tornado, all our air deliverable ground weapons systems are integrated on the type.

  9. Personally, I should not be at all surprised if a rabbit is pulled from the hat on Tuesday.

    After all, the argument on the need to reduce the deficit is broadly speaking reduce now, otherwise your children will end up paying the price.

    Which is pretty much along the same lines as the arguments underpinning a strong and flexible defence capability – get it wrong and our children may pay the price.

  10. mike
    but all this kit is supposed to be on typhoon soon isnt it?
    But all the integration work was cut for funds.

  11. Admin, you’ll have to invest anyway, regardless if one deep sixes the Harrier or Tornado. Might as well expand Typhoons Tranche 3 (Tranche 4?) – Germany always saw Typhoon as a Tornado replacement anyway, so there is some “build in Tornado” within Typhoon. Even a fully automatic terrain following system can be integrated if need be (though there is less need for it now than during the Cold War).

    As said before, Typhoon can do Tornado roles and then some, with relatively minor updates – it just can’t do VTOL, and that’s the reason the Harrier wins over the old swing-wing Tornado.

  12. Re: the Harriers early departure. Is this why 656 Sqn have been practising operating their Apache’s off carriers?

    Is the Apache the new ‘Harrier’ until the F-35 appears on the scene?

  13. Marcase, I agree that we will have to invest anyway but that doesn’t mean we can afford to bring that planned investment forward, we can’t

  14. Isn’t this just salami slicing, instead of a real look at what is needed and/or wanted for the future ?

    Aren’t we just going to get lesser numbers of aircraft, ships, tanks, artillery and everything else that goes to support them…..also i’ve seen (albeit in the press), that service personel will be cut by about 20,000 overall.

    I think it was 8,000 from the Raf, 7,000 from the Navy & 5,000 from the Army.

    I find i’m getting much more an appreciation of whats involved & what could be put at risk (for instance the type of air support for afgahnistan). When you really look at what is on the chopping block (Tornado) & then remember that your going to have to replace what them with something that is equiped to do the same job (T-T3), also that you have to have a covering force (Tornado) until the Tranch-3’s are fully ready, then aren’t we getting into a situation where you will have to spend more money now (to get T-T3 ready), so that you can save more later (by axing Tornado).

    Also it seems to me that it’s nuts to get rid of the Harriers, as it seems to me that things happen just when we are not ready for it. If we axe the Harriers now what odd’s would you give on something happening in the next 3-6 years? Just when we have no fast jets to put on the carriers we do have. I know the harriers are not what are needed anyway but as things tend to happen that we aren’t really ready for, i hope we don’t regret getting rid of them.

    As to a solution, i’m sorry, i admit defeat. Having to rob peter to pay paul to cover a shortfall, i can’t see a way to make sure everthing that’s neccessary gets covered or done.

  15. Even as a ‘CVF cheerleader’ I wouldn’t really have fancied putting a Ground Attack Harrier up against many worthwhile opponents to be honest.

    If we are switching to CATOBAR on the new carriers, considering the Tornados are in use in Afghanistan it makes more sense to keep them.

  16. Tornado.

    160 typhoon is enough to run 6 frontline squadrons as far as i am aware, technically the RAF only wanted 144, now they have an extra 16 for attrition reserves.

  17. Dominicj.

    “What does Tornado do that Typhoon doesn’t?”

    Well, at the moment I understand (from the “Sunday Telegraph”) that it the aircraft has “so far been unable to take part in combat missions in Afghanistan because the country is too dusty”. Does that mean a lot more money will have to be spent before it can take part in out-of-area actions or is the problem easily solvable?


    “Also it seems to me that it’s nuts to get rid of the Harriers, as it seems to me that things happen just when we are not ready for it.”

    One solution might be to keep a few Harrier GR9s in storage. Rumour has it that a small number of Sea Harriers is still being kept in hangars at my local naval air station, RNAS Culdrose!

  18. I like the “talk nice to the USMC” might placate the Yanks. Might make them think we are still serious about defence.

    Didn’t “we” buy 900 Storm Shadow? Not impressed with this system. Buying TLAM would have made sense. It seems Storm Shadow is about justifying the need for aeroplanes to carry them. Further look at the small penny packets of TLAMs “we” launch from SSNs; probably only used in small numbers because of unit cost (plus lack of suitable platform for mass launches.) Anybody for a stretched Daring with a MK41 VLS back aft?

  19. Hello everyone, been lurking around for a while now so thought I would just throw some more stuff on to the bonfire.

    It may be worth just thinking about, but why have we (UK) got any fast air in Afghanistan away? (at this point you are thinking what is he smoking, but bear with me here) The reason I say this, we only have a handful of aircraft out there and they are not usually used by the UK forces on the ground. Now I realise this is a slippery slope to go down with regards to supporting our allies, but instead we should increase the amount of UK Apaches out there. The Americans do the fast air thing well enough (ie drop a bomb on that target), if you need guns wouldn’t you rather have an Apache with its 30mm and TADS system that can keep eyes on target all the time it is there? This is somewhat about reducing the supply chain out there, one less type etc.

    Now I am just playing devils advocate a bit here, I wouldn’t support such a move myself, but looking at it wouldn’t the Apache and Harrier be more relevant to the roles (Afghanistan, carriers etc) needed in the next 10 years?

    Does this move about the Harriers look partly like the RAF trying to justify the more visible/warfighting part of their contribution in Afghanistan?

    PS just to state my ermh ‘preferences’ up front, I would be a strategic raider supporter although I would support the all spectrum version (SF, subs, ISTAR etc in addition to the carriers/fast air/helos and the marines/paras as the centre piece).

  20. Andy,

    Thanks for the pic. So it’s actually true! My thinking was that, if an emergency were to arise where the unique characteristics of the Harrier were required (e.g. in a land conflict where there were no readily available airfields), then a quickly assembled formation of stored Sea Harriers combined with stored GR9s would prove quite a potent force, even, say, 5 to 8 years from now. The problem, I suppose, would be retention of pilots’ skills and adapting the aircraft to carry the latest weapons. Is what I am saying complete nonsensical fantasy?

  21. Mike, its not nonsense but it would take a very long time to get the old airframes current with weapons, comms and DAS. Very costly and very difficult to find pilots with sufficient current skills so they did not become a liability in theatre.

    DM, welcome to TD, not another bloody Strategic Raiding fan!!!

    Have a read of my take on the latest in military fashion

  22. @ DM

    I think there is something missing too. I have just commented over at Phoenix Think Tank that when heavy fires are needed it is either fast air or Javelin. Both are expensive. I hadn’t thought about AH64. I actually think the army need another option on the ground.

    BTW Forget strategic raiding the key issue is where do you stand on RAF Alsations?

  23. Andy, is that a layout of a carrier’s deck they are parked on ?

    If it is the Harriers that are to go as per your link, what do they bridge the gap with to cover anything happening until the (expected), in service date of 2018 for the F35-C.

    If the Harrier II’s were put into storage like those SHAR’s, how long to get them & the pilots, maintainance staff, aircraft handlers, armourer’s etc etc back up to speed?

    Then again that all seems like a plan b by the Mod instead of a fully thought through plan. Wonder how much it would cost to fully resourse a composite group flying SHAR’s & Harrier II’s….would that even make sense?

    Or would it make more sense to get rid of all the Harrier’s & either buy Rafale/F18 or start getting ready for the F35-C, accepting that that means no fast jets for the Navy for a few years….

    I admit i’m a cautious person, i’d rather a mixed group of Harrier’s to tide the Navy over until someone actualy makes a decision on either the F35 or Rafale/F18.
    However with a projected budget deficit of £149 Billion for 2010/2011 the last thing the Gov. will want to do is agree that it has to spend more on the military due to circumstances that we currently face.

    Also although i’m not that much of a supporter of the CVF itself (but agree we need naval air), i find it crazy that the Navy has been trying for nearly 35 years to get a new program of large aircraft carriers & that various Goverments have found ways to constantly ignore that.

  24. Re, the mock carrier deck – I assume its just for aircraft handlers training as I don’t think any would be deemed airworthy?

  25. Ref investment on adding capabilities to Typhoon, Admin said we can’t afford to make that investment right now.

    Yes we can – if we choose to.

    “Who Goes, You Decide” – OK, we are currently engaged in a war which has lasted longer than WWII – so I choose the DfID overseas aid budget goes ! Not all of it maybe, but a large enough chunk to pay for Storm Shadow and RAPTOR integration on Typhoon, and maybe to buy all of Tranche 3B (with conformal tanks, and EASA radar).

    The Jaguar had all sorts of kit integrated, cheaply and quickly by clever chappies within the RAF and at BAe – an it was an ancient design, never meant to be upgraded in such a way. What’s more it was largely done quickly (as UOR’s) and for all I have read, relatively cheaply. So don’t tell me it would break the Bank of England to put RAPTOR and Storm Shadow on Typhoon.

    If we are that skint, screw Kharzai and withdraw from the current theatre of operations, from which we gain nothing politically, socially or for the defence of the realm, and do it immediately.

  26. Jed,

    Preach! (Or, in your native language “Coom on my son!”) And on your closing comment too.

    Thanks for raising the point of the Jaguar, which really is a good case for what’s possible. (It was an efficient design in a good way, rather than exquisite, which helped make it possible to kludge updates.) No, it wouldn’t break the Bank of England. At all. In fact, it might (I know this isn’t Admin’s favourite line of argument) help create skilled, well-paid employment that pays into the economy in consumption and taxes, and help carry on knowledge bases to retain technical capability and later branch out in new directions. Some of the Bank’s neighbours down the street could pony up for the effort (certainly Tories once thought so, long before they were Conservatives) but no, getting the people who jacked up the national debt by a factor of one-third to help pay it off is impolitic. One of the reasons there’s a perpetual budget crisis is, like Venice in its old age, the economy at large has been allowed to wither in favour of the financial sector. And don’t get me started — again — on the profoundly outsized and dysfunctional role the Treasury plays in British governance. It’s straight out of “Doesn’t Matter What Your Cultural Politics Are, Don’t Parent This Way!” 101. And I can’t think of another major European or North American state, except maybe Germany which has a level of exports to indulge such bankers’ tongue-clucking up to a point, where the exchequer has such overwhelming weight. Not from the PIGS to the all-square cloggies and Norse. There are cuts all round, yes, but the foolish nature of these … oy. There are other ways of closing the debt gap that would be healthier for the nation’s security.

    And, as another navy-loving strategic raider, I’m all in favour of Tranche 3B, especially in return for the RAF sweating more of its assets and generating more front-line squadrons (the luxury of big OCU resources and airfields full of reserve airframes belong to another time, when European budgets were healthier, and aircraft were strudy and cheap rather than exquisite and impossibly pricey.)

  27. I’d put it down to political mathematics:

    If the RAF ditched Tornado to meet the immediate requirement to shed a ‘type’, then by 2016 when Harrier was replaced and/or was taken out of service the RAF would have just 160 Typhoons to its name.

    If the RAF ditched Harrier but held on to say a third of the Tornados (say 40 of them) then with plenty of spare airframes and engines it could be pretty confident of retaining a fleet of 200 fast jets probably into the 2030’s.

  28. Reports on BBC News are that both Harrier and Tornado will go. Is this a scare story to make the real cut seem kinder? Or do our lords & masters believe thatstrike aircraft and fast mover CAS aren’t needed until Typhoon is upgraded?

  29. But the Typhoon upgrades are just software arent they? Its not like we need a new engine to be designed, we just need to get Typhoon to speak to the weapons and sensors Tornado is currently using.

    That was always the plan wasnt it? But the integration programs were all cut to fund afghanistan.

    I might be wrong, but surely an RAF fleet of 200-240 Typhoons all upgraded to T3b and integrated with all our weapons is the best outcome we can hope for.
    Much better than 160 Typhoons, half T1 half T3a with a variety of limited fits supported by a few dozen Tornados for the next 5 years.

  30. Would it be feasible to upgrade the Harrier fleet so that it remains serviceable and deployable until the F-35B is ready? What would it take: uprated engines, new avionics?

    I agree with everyone who has said that deploying two very expensive aircraft carriers without aircraft is ludicrous. I don’t see why we cannot delay them until the aircraft are ready.

  31. because the contract as it stands has already increased costs by £600 when McBroon decided to delay the carriers by two years in december last.

  32. Jasons,

    A very good question. Perhaps there will be a phased withdrawal of the Harriers over, say, five years. That will still not take us up to the entrance-into-service date of the first CVF (in one press report I read this had inexplicably been put back to 2018. I thought that was the entry date for the second carrier!) If the Harriers all go in one fell swoop, then the only role for the Ark Royal and Illustrious will be as helicopter carriers.

    Actually I am just as worried, if not more so, over the rumoured cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4. Now there is a plane that can carry out a multiplicity of esential roles. Tim Ripley is quoted in the “Telegraph” today as saying that, if the government cancels the Nimrod MRA4, “it will be one of the most scandalous wastes of public money you could imagine.”

    What will replace it?

  33. @ MikeW

    Nimrod MPA heading towards extinction, pressure on the MCMV “force”, coupled with Russia engaging in another round of “Blind man’s bluff”, and the growing strategic importance of the Arctic is quite frightening.

  34. Hello,

    I would like to see a balanced Royal Air Force.
    It would be unfortunate if the Harriers,helicopters and Nimrods were sacrificed just to keep an overly large bomber force.

    I think it has been said that cutting the Tornados saves £6,500 Million more than cutting the Harriers.
    If the Tornados stay that money has to be found elsewhere.


  35. MikeW
    If we buy F35C or another CatTrap Jet(and ditch Harrier), we wont have a carrier until PoW is finished, and we wont have two until QE goes in for major refit work.

    Politicaly its a blinding decision that can beat Labour round the head for a decade, but militarily…

  36. So we’re keeping the Tornado for what? Afhanistan? Ah, that place where we are with our Allies in a joint coalition where we are supposed to share assets. I heard Cameron say Tornado carries more than Harrier – but the most used weapons are CRV-7 rockets and Paveway IV (500lb LGBs) – both carried by GR9s. Yes the Tornado has a working gun, but not sure a broad analysis has been done. I suspect RAF boys want to sideline Navy air assets as lots of talk of getting rid of RAF. Take Harrier away and Navy has no fixed wing assets and to a few in the RAF they have got back to the glory days – fighters that fly fast, look pretty but don’t do much else (remember the Lightning?).

    Reduce the Tornado force and spend the money on bringing the Typhoon closer to the aircraft we thought we were buying.

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