Britain's Harrier jump-jets reprieved to fly and fight again
With the US Marines, though. They're not stupid
Blighty's famous force of Harrier jump-jets, controversially disposed of during last year's defence review along with the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, have been reprieved: the radical vectored-thrust jets, believed by many to have been the best strike planes in Britain's arsenal, will fly (and almost certainly, fight) again.
However they won't do so with British roundels on their sides or British pilots in their cockpits. The mothballed fleet of 74 Harriers, plus the UK's inventory of spare parts, is being bought up lock, stock and barrel by the US Marines.
The US Marines possess a substantial air arm of their own and operate a large fleet of Harriers, with slightly different equipment but structurally the same. They anticipate that the British planes, engines and spares, many of which are in nearly-new condition and have been recently upgraded at significant expense, will allow them to keep flying Harriers into the mid-2020s without difficulty.
"We’re taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them. It’s like we’re buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it," Harrier expert Lon Nordeen tells the Navy Times.
The US Marines operate Harriers in a similar fashion to that until recently employed by the Royal Navy, in which the jets take off from a small aircraft carrier without catapults using their swivelling jets to make a very short takeoff run. Having flown a mission and burned fuel (and perhaps released weapons), the Harrier becomes light enough to set down vertically, supported entirely by jet thrust.
Harriers headed for the States, where the Marines are looking for a few good planes.
The Royal Navy now plans to fit at least one of its new big carriers with catapults, and will be using conventional tail-hook jets with these at some point. But the US Marines' small amphibious-assault carriers cannot be converted for catapult operation, and they intend to maintain Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) capability. The only post-Harrier option for this is the B variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the world's first ever supersonic stealth jump-jet. The F-35B will be very expensive to buy and operate for a long time, however, and the Marines will be glad to be able to keep flying Harriers well into the 2020s rather than having to buy cripplingly expensive F-35Bs in large numbers early on in the F-35 production run when prices will be high.
In Britain the decision to scrap the Harrier and the RN carriers was hotly criticised, with famous commanders from the Falklands War writing to the papers pointing out the folly of the move. It was suggested that the Harrier - operated by a mixed force of RAF and naval personnel - had been scrapped so that the RAF could preserve its much-loved, very expensive-to-run, manpower intensive but only marginally useful Tornado bomber force intact. It was pointed out that the Tornado, specifically designed to fly well only at a low level, struggles to operate usefully in Afghanistan where even the base runway is at quite a high altitude. Every Tornado takeoff there is a risky gamble as the jet will not lift off until it is going at 184 mph - but it takes almost all of the runway to achieve this.
Every time a Tornado gets airborne, it passes through a point of no return on the runway after which, if there's a problem, there is no room to brake to a halt and the crew must eject and let the plane wreck itself. This has already happened at least once.
Also the Tornado takes much longer to get airborne in response to a call for assistance than a Harrier, and the Harrier fleet boasted higher availability in Afghanistan while requiring smaller numbers of personnel to support it.
Then, after the Harriers and carriers had been scrapped nonetheless (it did not escape notice that the defence review involved two air marshals at the level conferring direct access to the Prime Minister but only one admiral and one general) ... Libya happened, and we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of US Navy, US Marine, French and even Italian jets lifting off from decks just off the coast and hitting targets within minutes while the RAF's Tornados and Eurofighters toiled in across the Mediterranean (or even in many cases all the way from England), wastefully burning up extremely expensive flying hours and requiring extensive use of air-to-air refuelling. Again it did not escape notice that the RAF's new PFI tanker fleet is expected to cost twice what the new RN carriers are ... to hire, not buy.
So the decision to scrap the Harrier looks like a very foolish one indeed from a British viewpoint. Still, it's an ill wind which blows nobody any good, and plainly the US Marines can't believe their luck. ®
By accurate do you mean a post that agrees with and does not deviate from your viewpoint?
Why don't you enlighten us poor, benighted civvies who are paying for this stuff where the inaccuracies are?
> He keeps making his point about the flexibility of the Harriers being lost, but it isn't really valid > in my view.
Your view, on the evidence presented, appears not to be based on accurate observation of evidence from the external world.
> The Harrier has a very short range.
AV-8B ferry range 1800 n.mi., Typhoon ferry range 2100 n. mi., so there's not a lot in it. At the time of the Falklands war, I believe some of the Harrier ferry flights were record-breakers.
> Unless you have a forward operating base very close to operations, or a carrier off the coast
> they are kind of useless.
You are to be congratulated on your perspicuity. You might also care to observe that the Harrier is able to operate from a wider aviety of bases than any other fixed-wing jet. All other fast movers require a long, flat, vulnerable strip before they can operate from a land base. All aircraft needs bases; Harrier demands less than any other type. To say that this shows a lack of flexibility in the Harrier is a fine display of barking moonbat logic.
> When we got shut of the beasts we only had a couple of through-deck cruisers to fly them off.
They became carriers when Kieth Speed was Navy minister, don't you remember?
> So in response to any worldwide issue we potentially have months to wait getting the carriers > in position. Look how long the task force took to get down to the Falkland's for example.
Still quicker than the RAF managed without Grey Funnel Lines' assistance, wasn't it? The only other RAF type that contributed attack sorties in the Falklands was one of which three examples had already been sold to museums -- and if the tanker support available had been used to support Harrier ferry flights instead, there would have been another eight Harriers available with the embarked air groups.
> With only 2 carriers there is a good chance one isn't ready for sea at a given point in time,
Yup. Real navies need more than 2 carriers.
> if Libya kicked off and your carrier was in an exercise in the Pacific, the Americans could have
> finished the whole affair before you got your carrier in position.
Remind me, how long did the Libya affair last? And how much did it cost the Typhoon force to deliver a slack handful of Storm Shadows?
> The Harriers don't do long transits very well,
...apart from setting records for them in 1982, obviously.
It's pilots that don't do long transits very well -- and the same appies for long-range combat flights. Much better to park the force as close as possible to the target and fly the hell out of them. Look at the astonishing sortie rate the Harrier force managed in the Falklands.
> so even assuming you have a nice forward operating base (which we didn't in Libya)
What, Italy's not a nice forward operating base? I'm sure the hitels the RAF crews stayed in were jolly nice.
> you probably can't fly them back from a forward deployment easily.
Why on earth not? Is the air resistance greater flying back than going out? You are just inventing fatuous fake complications to support your silly and unsupportable opinion, aren't you?
> We don't really have the logistic capability to support a long term naval deployment either.
We ought to invest in our loggy capabilties too, then.
> Just think if we had tried to use Harrier from baby carriers in Afghanistan.
Why would we have done that? It's a silly suggestion. The sensible thing, and what we actually did, was to operate Harrier from land bases. And a study on the order of merit for CAS operations in Afghanistan showed that it was Harrier first, Tornado second, Typhoon third. When the RAF goes to an all-Typhoon fleet, it will have chosen the worst of the possible types to fight the one war we are actually fighting. It would make a fine episode of "Yes, Prime Minster".
> Forward operating bases for Harriers can be thrown together in many places, but availability > of the Harriers drops considerably when operating from a rough field site.
And for all other RAF types, it drops to nil. It's not the Harrier that's inflexible.
> The Tornado might be out of date, but with tanker support you can put it anywhere in the
No you can't. You can't put it at sea, so most of the world's surface is out straight away; and even on the dry bits, it requires long stretches of flat concrete from which to fly. That is a very restricted sort of "anywhere".
> Same with the Typhoon.
Yes, same with the Typhoon , although we might one day see it turned into the jet age equivalent of the Seafire and pranging itself in deck landings.
> It can carry substantially more ordnance as well.
Which matters why? The current emphasis on PGMs means you are seldom going to need more than a single JDAM. And if weight of ordnance matters, forward basing and a high sortie rate are a better bet than long-range strikes with heavy loads, as, again, the Falklands showed with striking clarity.
> Also, for good reason, the RAF prefers 2 seat aircraft.
Traditionally it has been the RN that preferred 2-seat (and 2-engine) aircraft. Harrier isn't a naval aircraft in origin, remember, it first saw service in the RAF -- as did the Hunter, Lightning, Jaguar, and Typhoon, all single-seat types, which suggests that you don;t have that much of a clue what the RAF prefers. Maybe of the RAF hadn't wanted a single-seater for the P.1154 specification, it wouldn't have been cancelled.
> The reality is, against Lewis' viewpoint, the Tornado/Typhoon package provides the UK
>military with far more flexibility than something built around Harrier.
Utter, utter tosh. Tornado is not long for this world in any case, but the only thing they can do where they score heavily over Harrier is air defence. A brief study of the UK's air-to-air actions since 1945 will show how frequently that capability is needed, whereas CAS is needed for the war we are fighting now.
You did know there was a war on, did you?
Mind, the USMC operate very well with British forces. I have every expectation that before long we will discoer that USMC Harriers have been flying CAS in support of British troops on the ground when the RAF types in theatre were incapable of doing so.
All the best,