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Naughty, naughty air marshal misleads ignorant hacks

Air Marshal Anderson mentions the Tornado specifically no less than eight times and tries to push several untrue suggestions in its defence, indicating that he at least thinks it is under threat. Firstly, he tries to hint that Tornado has something to do with air defence of the UK against 9/11 style attacks: it does not. (The always-laughable Tornado F3 variant was formerly used for alert fighter duties protecting the UK, but it is going out of service as this is written, replaced as it should have been long ago by Eurofighters.) Bombers naturally have nothing to do with air defence, but nonetheless by mentioning the word "Tornado" in the same breath the air-marshal adroitly managed to confuse the issue in the minds of many journalists and their readers. The RAF are past masters at this sort of manoeuvre.

Secondly, under the unbelievably cheeky heading "value for money", Anderson mentions ongoing Tornado GR4 operations in Afghanistan. What the Tornado mainly does there is provide airborne spyeye imagery using the RAPTOR recce pod. Occasionally it acts as a cramped and unsuitable airborne command post, or shoots Brimstone missiles at ground targets.

There might be more expensive and manpower-intensive ways to provide this airborne spyeye and strike capability, but it's hard to think what they could be. In every important respect, a Reaper roboplane carrying the same missile is actually better for use in Afghanistan than a Tornado GR4, as well as being vastly cheaper. Sure, you need to win control of the skies before you can use a Reaper: but that's why we have fighters - specifically, the Eurofighter. We don't need wildly expensive bombers designed for hostile airspace any more: the cold war is over.

Getting rid of the Tornado makes excellent sense, so it's to be hoped that the mutterings out of Whitehall are true and this is what Cameron, Fox and Osborne have decided upon.

All in all, then, across the three services, the mooted cuts seem quite sensible. It's to be hoped that this is what we actually get, and that it isn't accompanied by short-term savings generated by delaying things and thus paying more for them in the end. This is a classic MoD tactic much used in recent decades, so much so that the NAO report says it is now costing us more than £3bn a year.

The main unknown that will be revealed next week is just what the Coalition leaders plan to do about the new carriers' air groups. Watch this space. ®

Bootnotes

*As an example, every serviceman or woman deploying to Afghanistan nowadays receives a large black holdall packed with all the various things that are lacking from their standard-issue kit. This has apparently been described by one grateful soldier as "a big warm hug from the Army", but he was wrong. It is, bizarrely perhaps, a big warm hug from the flinthearted bean counters at the Treasury. The good old Army was actually the organisation that failed to get him all that kit in the first place.

**Even if you can find an enemy with lots of tanks and artillery to have a fight with, it makes far more sense to simply blast them in safety from the air using precision weapons, than to fight them on their own terms. Tackling enemy tanks using tanks of your own - in these days of all-weather aircraft, airborne radar and guided weapons - is rather like killing rottweilers by getting down on all fours and biting them to death.

***One notes that the previous government will have signed that devil's bargain willingly and knowingly - indeed it may well have been Labour's idea rather than BAE's. Gordon Brown was well known for using navy shipbuilding to channel pork into his political strongholds in Scotland.

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