Scandal as MoD reveal that Harriers were still being upgraded when they were sold for parts to the US
A Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Defence has revealed that the controversial scrapping of the entire UK Harrier fleet took place whilst the planes were still undergoing a £500 million upgrade.
The retirement of the jets, eight years earlier than scheduled, leaves the country without carrier-borne aircraft.
As to their fate, a second batch of aircraft has now made its way from RAF Cottesmore to Southampton where they are being shipped to America, having been sold to the US Marine Corps to provide spares for their craft. The paltry £116 million for which they were sold was a fraction of the cost of their upgrade.
The upgrade was part of the Joint Upgrade and Maintenance Programme (JUMP) which incorporated a major upgrade to the aircraft's avionics and weapons systems, enabling the aircraft to carry a variety of current and future weapons.
These included Maverick air-to-surface missiles, Brimstone anti-armour missiles and AIM9L Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for self-defence. Avionic improvements included the Rangeless Airborne Instrumentation Debriefing System, Successor Identification Friend or Foe and the Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod. A new, stronger composite rear fuselage was also fitted.
This week, as Argentina continued their war of words over the Falklands by making complaints to the United Nations, the National Audit Office has raised concerns over the defence cuts, saying they could leave the country without an adequate future fighting force.
The lack of manoeuvrable assets has been a big problem in recent months, with the Libya uprising leaving Britons stranded in the country and now the South Atlantic tensions may lead many in the government wondering if the wrong decision has been made.
For whilst HMS Illustrious has finished its refit at Rosyth, it has been converted to take helicopters. The next generation of carrier borne aircraft, Joint Strike Fighter, have been besieged with problems and the UK's order has yet to be delivered.
India were interested in a version of the Typhoon which would also be able to land on aircraft carriers, something which the UK fleet have not been adapted to do. However, their decision to choose the Rafale which the French already have a carrier version of, could be the result of a lost opportunity for BAE and the MoD where a joint programme could have reduced the research and development costs for both sides.
Instead, we are left in a position where we lack any carrier borne aircraft and suitable aircraft carriers whilst the rumblings in the South Atlantic continue and show no signs of dissipating.
All this would be bad enough, but the taxpayer footing the bill for major improvements which will only benefit the USA will leave a bitter taste in the mouth for many.
Source: By Annabelle Fuller, 13 February 2012 - Daily Mail News (www.dailymail.co.uk)
Scrapped: Britain's Harrier force has been sold to the US Marine Corps for spare parts (Photo by © Getty Images)
HMS Illustrious to Rosyth for a £40million refit, but the former aircraft carrier will only carry helicopters after the upgrade (Photo by © Getty Images)
Problems: The delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter, designed to replace the Harrier, is far from certain (Photo by © PA Images)
A British Royal Navy FRS. Mk1 Sea Harrier aircraft hovers over the flight deck of the nuclear -powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (Photo by © DTN NEWS AUG 27 2010)