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Tornado was only choice, says UK government

The UK government has admitted that the Joint Force Harrier fleet would have been “too small to support Afghanistan operations".


A coalition convoy get support from a Tornado GR4 during a role demonstration at a snowy RAF Marham on November 26. Key – Gary Parsons

November 29: The UK government has admitted that the Joint Force Harrier fleet would have been “too small to support Afghanistan operations” and that the decision to ditch it in favour of the Royal Air Force’s Tornado in the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) was “in the interests of long-term financial affordability”.

The admission was made by the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Peter Luff in a written answer to the House of Commons on November 24. In the answer, Luff says that operations in Afghanistan were the “overriding factor” in the decision but other facts, such as the Tornado’s greater payload and range and integration of capabilities such as Storm Shadow, RAPTOR and Dual-Mode Brimstone could not be dismissed. The written answer also published aircraft operating costs per hour, with Harrier more expensive at £37,000 compared to the Tornado’s £35,000.

Luff also confirmed that the Tornado’s out-of-service date (OSD) has been brought forward from 2025 to 2021 and that the fleet would be progressively reduced in size as F-35 operations build towards the end of the decade. More immediately two squadrons are to be disbanded, but the force reduction will have “no effect on operations in Afghanistan”. It was confirmed that 96 Tornado GR4s will receive capability upgrades between 2011 and 2014 under the Capability Upgrade Strategy (Pilot) programme approved in December 2007 at an estimated cost of “around £300 million” and the number of aircraft is “sufficient to maintain the operational capability of the Tornado GR4 Forward Available Fleet until OSD”.

At RAF Marham in Norfolk on November 26, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) displayed to the press recent Tornado activities in Afghanistan supporting Operation ‘Herrick’ in a move clearly designed to counter the news of the disbanding Harrier force. A medal ceremony in the afternoon saw members of XIII squadron receive their Afghanistan operational medals from the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. During its three-month tour, XIII Squadron flew approximately 1,800 hours in theatre, the most hours flown so far by a fast jet Squadron in Afghanistan. Officer Commanding XIII Squadron, Wing Commander Howie Edwards, said “We had a very busy period in the summer covering the Afghanistan elections. The terrain is quite inhospitable so some skilful flying was required.”

The Tornado’s main role is supporting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troop operations and especially in countering the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) through the use of imaging pods, principally RAPTOR and Litening II. Although the latter was designed as a weapons aiming system, it is increasingly being used as a high-definition surveillance system to complement RAPTOR, which can map large areas on a single mission but limits the weapons payload of the carrier aircraft. The images are processed by the Tactical Intelligence Wing (TIW), also based at RAF Marham, which can provide analysis results from the raw data in a matter of a few hours. The Officer Commanding TIW, Wing Commander Andrew Stewart, said ”The imagery we provide is absolutely critical to ground forces. If they are planning for an Operation we can provide them with high quality imagery and geographic products which gives the ground troops situational awareness. When we get feedback from troops on the ground it is always complementary - last week, 2 Para Battle Group Chief Of Staff praised the timely productivity of TIW. Our quick response to his tasking allowed him to conduct operations earlier than planned.”

When asked if the proposed reduction in squadron numbers would impact on the support to Operation ‘Herrick’, RAF Marham’s Station Commander and the Tornado Force Commander, Group Captain Pete ‘Rocky’ Rochelle, confirmed that it was very much “business as usual” and would not be drawn on future basing plans or squadrons that would go. The timescale for changes has yet to be announced, but it is thought that the two squadrons may be disbanded as soon as March 31, 2011 with a transfer to a single operating base by April 2012.

For an in-depth feature on the TIW see the November and December issues of AIR International magazine.

Filed Under Military Aviation News.


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Richard Samwell. said on the 12-Jan-2010 at 17:39

@Mike Yates.
Mike, I see on 'Key' news today that Russia is to buy up to 2,000 New Aircraft for its Air Force(fixed wing and helicopters) and 'update' several existing models already in sevice. add this to several other countries doing the same thing, it looks as if 'OUR ' Dear Old U.K. must rank amongst the Poorest Nations in the 'So Called'' Civilised nations. I also saw on facebook
that H.M.S. Invincible(She of Falklands Fame) has been put up for 'Tender' by the mod disposal unit. I assume the same goes for 'Illustrious and Ark Royal. So ends Britains
role as a world 'Power'lol. What happens when these new Carriers of ours 'finally' come into
service, will they have to be 'Laid Up' because of having no Aircraft for them, (god knows when the 'F35 A,B,or, is it the C we're now
getting will be ready, I understand that they are still having a lot of problems with it which is
going to cost $ Billions to put right,also, when we Finally do get Our hands on them, I understand, that 'our special friends' from across the 'Pond' are going to hang on to the''Software'' codes. god help us if anything goes wrong). or, are we going to lend them to the French under this 'New Collaboration agreement.

Iagree with you Mike, it looks as if our existing resources are going to end up doing Jobs they werent designed for.

mike yates said on the 12-Jan-2010 at 20:51

As you have seen, countries, some of which we still send millions in aid to, are building up stocks of arms in numbers that we used to think of as normal. My question to our politicians is this. If THEY think it is necessarry, why don`t we.

Why do the Russians need 2000 new aircraft. I know they have only been adding small numbers of Su and Mig multirole airframes to their stocks (if we can believe THEIR figures) over the last ten years or so. Why are the Chinese and Russians and Pakistani and Indian leaders feel they must add to their stocks now. Fair enough, the Indians are looking at Typhoon or Rafale for types, but I bet Sukhoi will win orders here. And Pakistan have learned from their F16 golden handcuffs deal to trust the Chinese now to build their planes for them, and they ARE being built. 250 Thunders for a start, thats twice as many than our own Typhoon order, almost.

You touch on the F35. I think its laughable every time I hear about it, the Brits collaboration to this is vastly overrated. Not in the technology, by the way, but in the numbers. Out of potential orders of up to 5000 units for the world market, how many were we getting....120. The true number is now closer to 60 apparently. How many do the Yanks want 3000 plus...see, now THAT`S a number..

It isn`t this that bothers me though. I worry, because I cannot see idigenous aircraft coming through for us. We don`t have an industry of our own to order from..and why not? Political? or not.

Richard Samwell. said on the 12-Feb-2010 at 23:27

Mike, as you know, we havent had an idigenous
(Front Line) Aircraft Industry for some time
now. And, I can't see us getting one in the forseable future either. What was the last 'ALL BRITISH FRONT LINE COMBAT AIRCRAFT, I think it was the Harrier, but I'm willing to stand( or as I am at the moment Sit) corrected on this. Look at the Countries who's economies are suposed to be in a worse state than ours,
yet still have their own Front Line aircraft Industry. While the poloticians who are in power still continue with their present NARROW MINDSET they have at present, and stop paying lip service to Their so called Friends across the Channel and the 'Pond',we never will. We will just be bit part manufacturers for
other peoples designs, and, have to put up with their ''Hand-me-downs as well. If that isn't political,Then What Is?.

mike yates said on the 12-Mar-2010 at 00:26

Correct, it is political. Then you read Ian Duncan Smith actually lambasting the public workforce because we don`t manufacture anything anymore. He should remember, it was his peers under Thatcher that threw engineers like me on the scrapheap thirty-odd years ago, and thousands like me you understand. It is because of this waste of talent that I have such strong views on all of this, once our aircraft industry has gone, there`s not a lot left. We can`t all work in public services. Lets get back to building stuff we need for this country, not keeping American or European workers in jobs. Planes and ships would be a start.

Richard Samwell. said on the 12-Mar-2010 at 16:58

Mike, I could'nt agree more, The Design And Engineering Talent in this country thea has been thrown onthe scrapheap over the years is a disgrace. And the Politicians and Heads of businesses concerned should be ASHAMED of
themselves. Party Politics shouldn't come in to it, they always blame each other but they are all as guilty as each other, We've Always had the Talent in this Country, but its always been wasted, why?, because of The Narrow Mindedness of people too frightened of their
own shadow( and of losing MONEY) to make the right decisions at the right time.
The British Designs that have been scrapped
in all facets of Industry( Aviation, Shipping, Motoring both two & four wheels and Electronics need I go on) that's gone to waste due to Political Influence or Lack of Investment leaves a sick taste in ones mouth does it not.

I'm also thinking of the Royal Navy today on what must be a Rather Sad Day when Their Last Remaining Carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal sailed into Portsmouth for the Last time, to be Decommissioned, I wonder how many of her
Highly Trained Crew will still have Jobs to go to. Is this Really the Final Nail in the Harriers Coffin, I Hope Not.

mike yates said on the 12-Jun-2010 at 21:40

Ark Royal had a re-fit just over 1 year ago, to bring it back to the role as spearhead of forward fleet air strike capability. The Harrier carrier.with GR9`s flying off the re-surfaced flight deck. Engines serviced, new IT systems and other work to bring it up to standard. HOW then can it be de-commissioned a year later. The monet spent on re-fit is money thrown away, and I`m afraid if theres no Ark Royal there`s no Harrier.

Richard Samwell. said on the 12-Jul-2010 at 20:00

Mike, if you can remember the last 'flat top'
carrier bearing the name ''Ark Royal'' had had a
re-fit not long before she sailed to the 'Breakers Yard. Another case of history repeating itself again. I saw on the I.T.V. News
yesterday that they are going to try and ''Save''
the present Ark and if possible, 'Sail' Her up the Thames to the 'King George V' Dock where
She'll become a Floating Museum.All depending of course wether or not the ''consortium thats
looking into it can come up with the sort of 'Money' that the government (disposal squad) will be asking for her.

mike yates said on the 12-Jul-2010 at 22:55

Perhaps the entrance fee to this floating museum will go towards the unemployment benefit of the pilots of the Harriers who now don`t have a floating landing strip to land on. And of course the crew of the ship the Harriers have always been inter-linked with....I still can`t figure it.

Richard Samwell. said on the 12-Aug-2010 at 18:25

Mike, as far as the 'Politicians' are concerned, it
will be a case as always that, as soon as these
Harrier Pilots, and the former Crew of Ark Royal
have been(except for those lucky enough to have escaped the chop that laid off, it will be ''Once Gone, Soon Forgotten!.
Any Money taken from the entrance fee will, in
all likelyhood end upbeing used by H.M.G. for
some other needless excercise.

Richard Samwell. said on the 29-Nov-2010 at 20:10

I t apears to me that 'Moneyand only Money' is the deciding factor in the 'Governments decision
to scrap 'Harrier.
Wether Tornado is better than Harrier in Afganistan or not does'nt apear to the key factor in their( the Governments) plans, Money is!.
The Tornado may be better than the Harrier in a Land based role yet again it may not, I don't know, Both Aircraft have got advantages and disadvantages over each other.
But, the Harrier has one BIG advantage over the Tornado. It can take off and land on a CARRIER, or it could do until last week before
our Government decided to bring the last Carrier based aircraft home.(see the article about it on Key.Aero.) . that has Left the Royal
Navy without any AIR COVER, Both Surface and Submarine fleets have no protection from
High speed air launched missile attack(Exocet Type). Which the Harrier could have ( along with
the Nimrod MRA4) provided.
Quite often recently I've heard the Old but very
Apt saying, '' Charity Begins At Home''.
Perhaps our Government ought to take note of
it when they pay out all these grants to foreign countries.

mike yates said on the 29-Nov-2010 at 23:09

If money is the problem its a wonder that Peter Luff and his cronies haven`t thought of sending a few Tucanos over to Afghanistan, or even a few Hawks...they could do the job I`m sure.

How can a fleet of 70 odd Harriers be too small a fleet to chose 10 aircraft from. It still leaves 60 to scrap. Harriers were our "close air support" jets, its what they were built for, and they require half the ground crew per jet than a Tornado.

Why can`t anyone at the MoD admit this fact.They have fallen out of favour with the concept of Vstol and they cannot drop the idea fast enough. Its taken thirty years for them to figure out that that Harrier has no place in any of our forces, EXCEPT on the back of the Ark Royal.

The army would love to use them like the USMC use them, but they are too expensive. So the army have the Apache, just can`t afford Harrier.

The RAF would always have preferred a PROPER fast jet in its "close air support" line up.

Which takes us back to the Navy, where the Harrier is at home, except that the Navy has to scrap the ArkRoyal so it can buy some more boats.

Back to Tornado, has this then been relegated to the "close air support" role or the ECM role or just a glorified CCTV imaging role. As for the different types of payload available, it seems they are not used frequently because of the "show of force" technique and the fact that our pilots are not allowed (by the powers that be) to blow to bits the vermin that are shooting at them. Also note, the "use by date" has been brought forward five years, to 2020, how is this prudent when Italy for example want their Tornados to last 10 years longer, by paying peanuts for a MLU.

I can see, in 2014 when we pull out of Afghanistan, Tornados put out to pasture over the North Atlantic and North Sea, sub hunting instead of Nimrod. Mind you, at least this leaves the Typhoon with nothing more exhausting than a few airshows to do till 2020, we won`t have to worry about their running costs for a while. Tonkas Rock.

Peter Bewers said on the 14-Dec-2010 at 10:09

I agree with a lot of what you say Fellas , but I think Mr Cameron feels we can just take a chance on the Nations Security, no body is going to attack us so we just run the Nations defences to almost nothing! Im sure we will be alright.

WINSTON CHUCHILL ! never heard of him , led the country through its worst period of attack, nothing like that is ever going to happen again,
Im sure Uncle Sam will take care of us and we can therefore save the money.

God ! I do hope the politicians come to their senses before its to late !

mike yates said on the 16-Dec-2010 at 20:20

Peter.....Maybe ministers have done a deal across
europe, and nobody is going to attack the UK. Then WE the voters should be told. We know they are cutting their own countries aquisitions to the bare minimum, so what we need to know just WHO is likeley to try to invade....N.Korea, China even Russia are all changeable from one year to the next, and would any ONE of these risk the might of the rest of the world to invade.If they did;

Would the rest of the world help us, would our European allies help us. If the answer to this is YES, then there is a good reason to reduce defence costs buying to a low level...But the biggest question is CAN we TRUST those that have had us in their sights for so long. America doesn`t seem to have that trust,should we..?

Peter Bewers said on the 17-Dec-2010 at 11:52

Yes Mike, I am worried , we would not have reclaimed the Faulklands without the Harrier, perhaps Mr Cameron and his friends have forgoten that,

The Harrier is unique in its flying capibilities , it can fly in any direction including its V.T.O.L ability and there is no other Aircraft in the World that can do that as far as I know.

Honestly chaps, Cameron and his Party WERE NOT ELECTED WITH A MAJORITY ! and I do not think any sensible British person would have supported them to the extent they did had they known what they planned to do with the Country.

For God sake Common Sense Please !

mike yates said on the 17-Dec-2010 at 15:26

Government thinking is that Typhoon, being multirole, can cover all eventualities in the Falklands, and every where else. I prefer safety in numbers, and one platform to do ONE job to the best of its capabilities. This is why Tornado was never an agile air-air fighter, it is also why they were worried about its CAS role in Afghanistan. I still think Harrier would have continued to do an excellent job in the desert, as do the pilots, Tornado here is just too much, as is Typhoon. If ministers still want us to fight this type of war in the near future, the RAF desperately needs a dedicated CAS aircraft..A British A10.. perhaps? to cover our soldiers backs...If they had any common sense..

HT@FSU said on the 18-Dec-2010 at 01:29

Let me see: basic construction failure of the IDS Tornado: low-level penetration; basic construction failure of the now gone ADV Tornado: long-range straight-ahead intercept. Both variants never recovered from these shortcomings. And both variants were specialized on these too narrow specifications. Still ironic, that the Germans even called back what seemed to be the only proven Tornado asset for the Afghan environment - the recce version. Everything else of the Tornado family: too fast, too heavy and/or too sophisticated for modern combat. What we need is a rugged puncher for the ground troops. Tornado doesn´t fit here, and it´s time is generally over - probably before it ever had begun. Where was Mr. Luff and gang, when the rest of us heard the warning shots of ´91? Sitting on their ears, I trust.

mike yates said on the 18-Dec-2010 at 16:24


I think it was realised that the RAF were getting better information using the lightening pod, than the German Tornados with the older EW suite. It is said, the RAF Tornado drivers can see oponents in more detail while loitering, and in real time, and convey what they see to the TIC locally. If they had wired a few Hawks up to this system they could have done the same job more cheaply, this is what I meant when I said Tornado was too much
for the job, but its all we have left. The Italians sent 5 AMX Ghiblis in to do the same job I think..

HT@FSU said on the 18-Dec-2010 at 18:56

Oh, that´s interesting. Didn´t know. Thanks for the input. What I was pointing at: I rolled back these days to Luff´s Speech at DVD 2010, June 23. In his speech he specified a few criterias future equipment programmes should be tested against. He really said: “We have a bad habit of talking about equipment programmes as if they exist in the abstract when we should be talking about capability: does this piece of equipment enable our Armed Forces to fight effectively and win on the modern battlefield?”

mike yates said on the 24-Dec-2010 at 19:58

Talking of equipment capability then, is it not time to bring back even the Tornados. Single figure bomb drops per week are not an effective way of using Tornado capabilities in Afghanistan. In fact,even US pilots are becoming frustrated by "shows of force" and the lack of "Real" action in the field. It seems to me an expensive way of shouting and waving your fist to frighten the enemy. If British ministers want to save cash, why are they not asking for the RAF fast jets to be brought home completely. The Afghans have NO aircraft to fight against, the Tornados only contribution to this war now is as a CCTV platform.

Reaper systems on the other hand are now more than eyes in the sky and are prosecuting more missile strikes and bombing runs than piloted planes.....leave them to do the job they were designed for and since there is no airborne opposition at all there is no loss in capability...

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