|GR9 At Sea (Copyright AIRFORCE
|Sea Harrier FA2|
The decision to withdraw Harrier should be seen as being as much about the need to regenerate carrier currency and regenerating contingent capability as it was about meeting the military requirements in theatre. By withdrawing Harrier, the UK was able to ease the pressure on a force which had for five years sustained continuous operations, and which was tired and in need of maintenance.
|Twilight Days, GR9 in Oct 2009 -|
What this meant in real terms was that limited funding existed to get pilots, most of whom had not done any credible sea time since 2004, or in the newer cases possibly not even been to sea, and try to use the period 2009-2016/17 to keep a small cadre of pilots intact who could lead the transition onto the CVF and the JSF. There appears to have been no intent of returning to big airgroup operations – the days of the RN sticking 16 harriers onto a CVS went forever long before, and at best it would have been a case of the odd deployment of 3-4 airframes to keep essential skills alive. The sole rationale for Harrier was the STOVL version of JSF.
The next part of the article will focus on why SDSR chose to chop the Harrier fleet, and address the ‘so what’ implications of this decision. It will look at the lessons of ELLAMY and ask whether the operation could have been done if Harrier were in service, and try to show that no matter what happened, the SDSR would have resulted in the loss of fixed wing carrier aviation in the UK.