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MoD does everything right for once in Xmas shocker

Freak ceasefire interrupts endless cannonade of cockups

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Comment It doesn't happen often, but just for once there's good news out of the Ministry of Defence - good news for British troops in combat overseas, and good news for British taxpayers too. But it's bad news for the UK arms biz, and bad news for certain regional communities who rely on the MoD to bring them government money they wouldn't otherwise receive - and don't particularly deserve.

So what's the government done?

In essence, they have cut down massively on military things which we don't - and almost certainly won't - need, and ordered a lot of things which we are desperately short of.

First up on the cuts side, the RAF Harrier force is being reduced by one squadron and RAF Cottesmore will be closed. You could argue that the Harrier - as Britain's only dedicated close air support plane - should be last in line for reductions when cutting fast jets. But we certainly have too many fast jets, and in fact almost any jet can do close support if required.

The only unique thing the Harrier brings to the party is its short-takeoff-vertical-landing (STOVL) jumpjet abilities, and the main genuine reason these are required is for operations from the Royal Navy's present pocket-size carriers at sea*. The Harriers of the Naval Strike Wing remain untouched, so this handy tool remains in the national bag.

Even better, defence minister Bob Ainsworth said yesterday that the fast-jet force would lose another "one or two" squadrons in future, probably to include Tornados.

The ageing Tornado was originally designed as a Cold War low-level deep penetration bomber. This concept has nowadays been thoroughly discredited by the decimation of the RAF's Tornado force - at the hands of quite feeble Iraqi point defences - during the 1991 Gulf War; not to mention the lack of any valid deep strategic targets in almost all wars. The emergence of smart precision weapons has made the Tornado's design even more obsolete, and eroded the case for a large force of jets able to drop large numbers of bombs.

There's certainly no need to fret about losing Tornado bombers, then. There is another version, the F3 air-to-air fighter variant, but this was a laughingstock from the outset and it is now being replaced at last by the Eurofighter, so getting rid of F3s is an excellent move too.

More sensibly yet, the MoD plans to scrap the Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol planes earlier than planned - another sound plan. The Nimrod MR2s are no particular use for anything except hunting submarines, which is scarcely a very likely mission for the British forces right now. If some enemy subs should appear from somewhere nonetheless, the Royal Navy has lately acquired a great deal of expensive sub-hunting equipment - Merlin HM1 choppers and low-frequency active sonars, for instance - which should do the job handily.

* The RAF formerly liked to push the idea of using STOVL to move Harriers away from big airbases to quickly-improvised field strips. This might have been a cunning plan in the Cold War, when your big airbase might have come under attack by enemy bombers or missiles. It looks a lot less cunning nowadays, when any such forward base would require massive perimeter security and frequent enormous supply convoys loaded with munitions, fuel, parts etc.

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