Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What To Cut: Typhoon,Harrier And Nimrod Versus Tornado And F.S.T.A.

The biggest surprises of the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review were the decisions to cut the Harrier and Nimrod fleets.

It had been widely expected that the Royal Air Force Tornado fleet and Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft would be cut instead.

Here we will consider that decision further.

At present there are 3 front line Typhoon squadrons,7 front line Tornado squadrons and 2 front line Harrier squadrons:

The Typhoons are new and currently provide air defence to the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands.

The 160 Typhoons currently on order will be replacing Tornados in coming years.

They have a limited ground attack capability at present but it has long been planned that equipment such as the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado  (R.A.P.Tor) be integrated in future.

"The Harrier will be operating the reconnaissance sensor that the Jaguar currently operates alongside the Harrier.

We already have the Tornado GR4 which will continue with its raptor pod and then in due course we will feed in the reconnaissance capability of the Typhoon as well."

The Royal Air Force conducted trials of a R.A.P.Tor pod fitted to a Predator B Unmanned Air Vehicle ,such as those used in Afghanistan, back in 2005.

The above imagery was taken by a R.A.P.Tor pod.

The Tornados are the oldest combat aircraft in service and make up the bulk of the British combat aircraft fleet.

The Tornado fleet has surged 10 aircraft in Afghanistan at present (it sustains 8 usually),having relieved the Harrier wing which performed that task from 2004 to 2009.

The Harriers are the only aircraft which can fly from the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers.

Maintaining combat capabilities to support combat operations in Afghanistan was a major factor in decisions taken during the defence review.

"Military advice has been that the Tornado is the more capable aircraft.

 The greater size of the Tornado force allows continuous fast jet support for forces in Afghanistan, which is highly valued by ISAF,and an ability to meet other contingencies.

 With regard to keeping a smaller fleet of Harriers, the withdrawal of an aircraft type delivers greater savings than partial reductions."
"The military advice is that the Tornado has a greater capability.

The primary capability advantages of the Tornado GR4 over the Harrier GR9 include greater payload and range and integration of capabilities,such as Storm Shadow,fully integrated dual-mode Brimstone,the Raptor reconnaissance pod and a cannon."

Let us see how much substance there is to these words.

The Typhoon has not yet served in Afghanistan though XI squadron Typhoons were planned to replace the Harriers there in 2008.

The following was said by Commanding Officer Wing Commander Gavin Parker speaking at the stand-up ceremony of XI Squadron at RAF Coningsby on Thursday 29 March 2007:

“We are the second operational squadron, but we are the first multi-role squadron.......
We will be prepared and ready to deploy to Afghanistan next year.
It has not been timetabled, but I expect that when we are prepared, we will go.”

The Tornados went in their place in 2009,only because there were not sufficient Typhoons available.

As more Typhoon squadrons enter service they shall replace Tornados.

The Harrier wing flew close air support sorties in Afghanistan for 5 years from 2004 to 2009 with just 3 squadrons.

There is no reason why the Tornado wing would require more than 3 squadrons to sustain it's contribution to operations in Afghanistan.

The Harrier fleet maintained this commitment for 5 years with a fleet of only 74 Harriers:

"Ordered to Afghanistan as the only combat jet able to operate from austere landing sites,Harrier completed an uninterrupted five-year deployment in theatre,during the longest period of high-tempo sustained operations since World War Two.

During this time,the Harrier proved itself extremely reliable and effective, with Joint Force Harrier accomplishing 8,557 operational sorties,22,772 flying hours and a technical serviceability rate of more than 99 per cent. Its current support arrangements are proving cost effective and flexible in the face of changes to the fleet."

The Tornado fleet replaced the Harrier fleet in Afghanistan in 2009.

Initially they had 8 aircraft in theatre flying about 6 sorties per day and generating approximately 16 daily flying hours.

Recently an additional 2 Tornados deployed to Afghanistan temporarily giving a total of 10 aircraft in theatre.

To quote the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State,Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever):

"In August 2010, the number of GR4 aircraft deployed on Operation Herrick increased to 10, with a resulting increase in the number of maintainers from 102 to 122.

The number of GR4 aircraft is planned to reduce to eight by the end of November."

To sustain this level of commitment would require a fleet of no more than 3 Tornado squadrons,the Royal Air Force currently has 7 Tornado squadrons.

The number of Tornados required to support commitments in Afghanistan is very small.

To again quote the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State,Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever):

 "Currently 28 Tornado GR4 aircraft are capable of operating in Afghanistan."

In terms of suitability for operations in Afghanistan the Harrier and Typhoon aircraft have significant advantages in the hot and high conditions.

The Tornado was designed to operate at low altitudes in European conditions.

This causes it some problems in terms of runway length requirements and other factors which some have suggested may have caused the loss of aircraft in Afghanistan.

It also has a high demand for expensive aerial refuelling.

British fighter pilot Sharkey Ward,the closest the United Kingdom has had to a "fighter ace" in the last 50 years,recently said the following about the limiting effect of Afghan conditions on the Tornado:

"As a result of the high temperatures experienced in Afghanistan for two thirds of the year (during the most active Taliban operations), the high altitude and the limiting factors of Tornado GR4 performance (such as, inadequate power, wheel limiting speed, etc) a normal weapons payload for the two aircraft types is as follows:

Tornado Gr4 weapons: 2 x Paveway 4 or 2 x brimstone,Raptor  or Litening pod NOT BOTH, das pod and reduced rounds in gun!

Harrier Gr9 weapons: 4 x Paveway 4 and 2 CRV 7 38 rockets in multiples or singles, das pod, sniper pod, recce pod and full fuel

And all jets are in same fit reducing maintenance effort!"

Tornado has the advantage of having the R.A.P.Tor reconnaissance pod (which limits it's weapon options) but this can certainly be integrated on the Typhoon and even the Nimrod M.R.A.4 patrol bomber.

The Harrier has the less capable Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod instead.

In Afghanistan the Harrier appears to routinely carry 4 significant weapons and a reconnaissance pod and a targeting pod.

 Tornado is also often seen in Afghanistan with 4 weapons and a targeting pod but no reconnaissance pod.

Tornado carries only 2 weapons with no targeting pod if the R.A.P.Tor pod is carried.

Tornado also carries a number of weapons which have not yet been integrated on other types yet such as Brimstone and Storm Shadow and Air Launched Anti Radiation Missile (A.L.A.R.M.).

Of these only the recently introduced Brimstone (which is rarely used,probably due to it's anti-tank warhead) is relevant to operations in Afghanistan and that is also planned to be integrated on the Typhoon and Harrier.

Storm Shadow and A.L.A.R.M. are not used in Afghanistan.

It was also intended to integrate Storm Shadow and Brimstone on to the Harrier G.R.9 which also has Maverick missiles and C.R.V.7 rockets which make up for it's lack of a cannon.

Brimstone was due to be integrated on the Harrier in 2012 as part of the "Capability E" upgrades.

There is some confusion surrounding the integration of Storm Shadow on to the Harrier.

 Adam Ingram,Minister of State for the Armed Forces said in April 2002:

"We do not currently intend to integrate Stormshadow on to Harrier GR9.

The operation of Harrier GR9 from the CVS (small aircraft carrier) with Stormshadow will not be practical, due to the size and weight of the missile.

 In addition, it is not currently considered to be cost effective to integrate Stormshadow on to Harrier GR9 solely for land-based operations."

The Harrier was clearly thought capable of carrying Storm Shadow when operating from land.

 It is not clear why it could not carry it when flying from a ship.

Possibilities include it's size precluding use of the ski jump and it's weight exceeding the Harrier's "bring back" capacity.

This reference to a B.R.C.P.821 study suggests that weight was the issue.

However,this issue must have been solved.

At the time this comment was made in 2002,Harrier was not cleared to operate from the carrier at maximum weight,that limitation was removed in 2006.

"On 25 March 2004, MoD announced that the Harrier Joint Upgrade and Maintenance Programme (JUMP) would be located at RAF Cottesmore in partnership with BAE Systems, instead of at DARA St Athan which had previously been responsible for Harrier support."

It continues:

"The JUMP upgrade allows the carriage of the latest smart weapons and navigation and global positioning systems.The new weapons being integrated are the Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Maverick missile systems." 

The Nimrod patrol bomber is also capable of carrying Storm Shadow (see top of page) and could easily have had Brimstone and other air to ground weapons integrated.

We might sum up the suitability of each aircraft for Afghan operations as follows:


Does not have Brimstone and R.A.P.Tor integrated yet but has an airframe and engines more suited to "hot and high" conditions,will eventually be a superior replacement for the Tornado in Afghanistan (and was planned to go there instead of Tornado in 2008).


Has R.A.P.Tor and Brimstone but is not well suited to "hot and high" operations,has a heavy logistics footprint and high tanker demand.


Has Maverick and will have Brimstone as well,lacks R.A.P.Tor but is superior to Tornado in "hot and high" operations,has small logistic footprint,short runway capability and lower aerial refuelling demands.


Has extreme endurance and superior communication,control and intelligence gathering capabilities,not in service at present and would require the integration of R.A.P.Tor and various air ground ordnance,potentially has no in theatre footprint and no aerial refuelling demand thanks to it's 15 hour endurance,potentially the best support aircraft for ground troops in a low threat environment like Afghanistan.

At present,the Tornado has only one significant advantage for operations in Afghanistan,the R.A.P.Tor pod,it is otherwise generally inferior to the other aircraft.

The R.A.P.Tor pod has already been trialled on the Predator B Unmanned Air Vehicles operated by the Royal Air Force in Afghanistan back in 2005.

It can also be integrated on to Typhoon and Nimrod.

The Tornado's R.A.P.Tor capability cannot then be described as essential.

Harrier appears to be better suited to Afghan operations in most other regards but lacks R.A.P.Tor pods.

When R.A.P.Tor is integrated,Typhoon is likely to be superior to Tornado for Afghan operations.

Nimrod was not due in service until 2012 but would undoubtedly be vastly superior to Tornado if R.A.P.Tor and air to surface ordnance were integrated,a single Nimrod being able to do the work of many Tornados with no in theatre footprint or tanker burden.

Having considered operational aspects,now let us look at the cost of maintaining these capabilities.

The Typhoon is not a candidate for cuts so we need not consider it further but an overview of it's extraordinary cost may be seen in another post.

Some relevant figures can be found in this Strategic Defence and Security Review internal briefing document.

On the Harrier it says:

"How much is taking Harrier out of service saving?

 In the region of £450M over the next 4 years and around £900M to £1000M in total."

The total figure presumably applies to the 8 years running up to the Harrier's planned out of service date in 2018.

"Turning to my noble friend's Question, we expect to make savings in the region of £900 million between now and 2018, the Harrier's previous out-of-service date."

These figures give us an annual saving ranging from £112 Million to £125 Million as a result of cutting the 74 strong Harrier fleet and the 2 remaining front line Harrier squadrons which it supports.

We can also find some figures for the Nimrod M.R.A.4 in this Strategic Defence and Security Review internal briefing document:

"How much will not bringing Nimrod MRA4 into service save for Defence?

 It is estimated that not bringing Nimrod MRA4 into service will save in excess of £2Bn over
the next 10 years."

This gives us an average cost of £200 Million a year to keep the Nimrod in service for 10 years.

It would have cost an average of £325 Million a year to keep both Harrier and Nimrod in service.

It is more difficult to find out how much would be saved by cutting a Tornado squadron.

"In terms of cost, if we remove the Tornado force, we would be looking at about £7.5 billion by 2018.
 With the Harriers, we are looking at less than £1 billion."

Pro rata,that gives a saving of £134 Million per year for each front line Tornado squadron cut.
Although this is not an entirely accurate method we can use this figure to come to some estimates.
On this basis the expected cutting of the Tornado fleet to 5 front line squadrons from 7 would save £268 Million a year.
Cutting the Tornado fleet by 4 front line squadrons to just 3  would save £536 Million a year.
Retaining the 2 front line Harrier squadrons and cutting 2 additional Tornado squadrons in their place would save an additional £143 Million a year over current plans.
That is about 3 times as much money as will be saved by mothballing one of the new aircraft carriers.
As 3 Tornado squadrons are more than enough for commitments in Afghanistan it is difficult to understand why David Cameron chose the option of cutting the Harrier fleet. 
It would be well worth asking the defence secretary what his estimate is of how much money would be saved by cutting the Tornado fleet to 3 front line squadrons instead of cutting the 2 front line Harrier squadrons.

There is no doubt that it is desirable to reduce the number of combat aircraft types in service.

There is also no reason why that reduction needs to take place in 2011.

Phasing out the Tornado after withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 may be a far cheaper option than withdrawing Harrier in 2011.

Reducing the Tornado fleet to 3 squadrons until 2014 will not negatively impact operations in Afghanistan.

It will also retain Storm Shadow,Brimstone and R.A.P.Tor capabilities until those systems are integrated on other platforms.

R.A.P.Tor capability can in any case be provided by the Royal Air Force's own Predator Bs as proven in 2005.

Retaining Harrier will also allow the United Kingdom to conduct independent combat operations.

This will also reduce the demand for tanker aircraft which permits further substantial savings.

These savings may more than offset the cost of retaining Nimrod in service.

This would result in a more capable air force at no greater cost.

If they can be made ready before 2014,Nimrod and Typhoon would be able to replace Tornado in Afghanistan,significantly enhancing capabilities,especially in the case of Nimrod.

The £11,917 Million cost of this project is spread over 27 years,an average cost of £441 Million for each year of the contract or a staggering £627 Million for each year that the full tanker fleet is in service.

By the time these aircraft are all in service the number of aircraft they support will have more than halved.

Only a handful of aircraft are required for troop transport.

The A400M and F35C can both provide aerial refuelling capacity in future.

There is significant over capacity in this contract.

The illustration above (click on the image for full size) shows bases used by British combat aircraft and distances to major target areas during Operation Allied Force,the Kosovo campaign of 1999.
It is typical of all 7 major air wars the United Kingdom has been involved in since 1945 (and before that date).
British air forces used at least 6 land bases (in 3 countries) and an aircraft carrier.
Other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (N.A.T.O.) forces used several dozen additional air bases.
It is apparent that the carrier based aircraft flew far shorter distances and required far less aerial refuelling for each sortie.

The large distances flown by land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force explain why they generated half as many sorties per aircraft per day as the United States Navy's carrier aircraft.
A full wing of Harriers on an Invincible class aircraft carrier could have provided all of Britain's combat aircraft sorties during this conflict.
It could have done so without the vast amount of aerial refuelling which the land based Tornados required just to get to Serbia from Bruggen and Solenzara in 1999.

Tanker aircraft cost far more than aircraft carriers but a nation which has aircraft carriers does not need a large fleet of tanker aircraft.
The carrier would have needed fewer aircraft to generate the necessary sorties than the land bases required and would have required far less logistics support.

Note the large number of countries in which the land based aircraft required basing and overfly rights.

The carrier aircraft required no basing rights and no overfly rights.
Retaining 2 carrier capable Harrier squadrons would allow substantial reductions in the F.S.T.A. fleet.
Such savings may amount to £200 Million a year or more.
More than enough to pay for the retention in service of the Nimrod M.R.A.4..

It is difficult to understand why the Prime Minister did not cut the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project.

Perhaps he had a "gun to his head".

In conclusion,the Prime Minister's decision to cut the Harrier fleet,and failure to cut F.S.T.A. was best summed up by Lord West of Spithead:

"My Lords, the decision to get rid of the Harriers and not the Tornados is bizarre and wrong.

 It is the most bonkers decision that I have come across in my 45 years in the military and I can assure this House that I have been privy to some pretty bonkers decisions in that time."

Lord West might be interested in finding out the answers to the following questions:

1.What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the additional saving which would result from cutting the Tornado fleet  to 3 front line squadrons rather than 5 currently planned?

2.What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the saving which would result from cutting the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft  fleet  to 6 aircraft rather than 14 currently planned?

3.When are R.A.P.Tor,Storm Shadow and Brimstone expected to be operational on the Typhoon?


Anonymous said...

You have hit the nail on the head, further more Tornado is now suffering from Wing Box fatigue, a problem the M.O.D are reluctant to admit, and further still will have to pay to rectify. Eat humble pie, bring back the Harrier's, chop the Tornado, and Tanker force, and further more tell Obama what he can do with his JSF, as it won't be flying with a Rolls Royce power plant will it?!

Anonymous said...

Recent events show that the decision to retain Tornado (at a strength of 5 large squadrons) was exactly right. Your analysis of Tornado was wrong in many areas, allow me to correct you on a few:

1) Weapon load. Tornado can carry 2xPW4 and 3xBrimstone simultaneously; the only change ever required is swapping Brimstone for a RAPTOR pod.
2) Hot and High. Tornado can get airborne from Kandahar with a full load of weapons and fuel throughout the year. It can land with all those weapons still on board. In what way does this comprise poor hot and high performance?
3) AAR. Tornado does not have an excessive demand on AAR, in fact its time on-station between AAR brackets is far longer than Harrier's ever was. It can also refuel at safe heights clear of all missile threats, in contrast to the inaccurate data circulated by those with vested interests prior to the deployment.
4) Capability of other aircraft. Nothing else in the RAF inventory can carry Storm Shadow or Brimstone; if Lord West succeeds in finding out when these will be incorporated onto Typhoon I'm sure he will not be waving the figures around in front of the press. Relying on a large aircraft such as Nimrod for launching stand-off missiles is a risky call - even things like Storm Shadow have a maximum range and it's entirely possible that missiles would have to be launched on the "red" side of the front line; no place for a big jet. Plus it's a good job we kept the Tornado as the (unique) ALARM capability will come in handy in Libya.
5) Storm Shadow on Harrier. It didn't work because the missile interfered with the Harrier's flaps.

So that's that really. I would say your case was written by somebody from the Fleet Air Arm! The only area where Harrier trumps Tornado is its ability to operate from shorter strips or carriers; as recent events are proving, where there is international consensus (required in all post-Blair conflicts) and national interest, land basing will almost certainly be available.

The Ex (Army Aircraft) Engineer said...

Lots of generally interesting stuff. The best we can say is that the Government has done it's main job - they actually made a firm decision on rationalising aircraft types.
What I do think the MoD need to do urgently is look again at FSTA and ensure first that the aircraft has the latest defensive aid suite and second investigate whether it can be equipped as an ISTAR asset (MX15 or RAPTOR) and ideally also with stand-off weaponry.
By double-hatting our tankers as high-altitude and stand-off weapons platforms for low intensity conflicts we can then do more with the fewer aircraft type we can afford.
Also, like most people you forgot to mention the Defender. Although obviously since that was a low-profile Army/SF project that didn't cost billions it gets overlooked. It would be perfect for surveillance operations in Libya but the last thing the RAF would like would be for the media and general public to know that the Army could do part of 'their job' for a tenth of the cost.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Anonymous (the first one),

thankyou,it would be interesting to know how much it will cost to fix the Tornados.

The Americans are shooting themselves in the foot by cutting the second engine.
It may well be the better of the 2.
If they had any sense they would be looking at moving to a single airframe rather than a single engine.
The F35C is likely to be the most useful of all 3 variants.


GrandLogistics said...

Hello Anonymous (the second one),

recent events have demonstrated the lack of wisdom in the decision to keep so many Tornado squadrons.

Nimrod and Harrier were sacrificed to pay for those Tornados.
But a single Nimrod was capable of launching 4 Storm Shadows against targets in Libya with no aerial refuelling support at all.

While the Harriers could have operated over Libya with a smaller fleet and also no aerial refuelling support.

Britain could have had better long range strike and better close air support capabilities at a lower cost if the Tornado fleet had been cut further instead.

In reply too your points:

1.The weapon loads quoted were taken from the stated source and there are published pictures of Tornados taking off from Kandahar with those loads.

2.The claims about hot and high performance are from the same source as above.

3.Tornado does require significantly more aerial refuelling than Harrier.
That was demonstrated in Kosovo when 8 Tornados had 4 tankers in direct support to allow them to fly the 1,800 miles from Bruggen to Kosovo and back.
Carrier based aircraft could have operated over Kosovo with no tanking at all,it was a matter of minutes flying time from the Adriatic.

Kosovo is a direct parallel of current operations over Libya.
Where the carrier based aircraft generate more sorties/hours on station with a smaller deployed fleet and less tanker support.
Almost every major war fighting operation over the last 65 years shows the same pattern being repeated again and again.

4.Brimstone was scheduled to be in service on Harrier in 2012.

As the Armed Forces Minister recently said,Harrier could have carried Storm Shadow.
Back in 2002 the then Armed Forces Minister said he had decided there was no need for Harrier to carry Storm Shadow - even though it could carry it.

In any case there has never been a better reason for putting Tomahawk cruise missiles on our surface ships than those 3,000 mile Storm Shadow missions.

Would one of those missions have been aborted when civilians entered the area if it had not taken 4 hours for the Tornados to fly 1,500 miles their weapon release points?

Nimrod is perfectly acceptable for releasing stand off missiles off the coast of second rank power.
I would agree that it is not up to penetrating higher threat environments.
But the really nice thing about Nimrod is that it does the long range missile launching in addition to it's day job and without tanker support in the case of operations at Libyan ranges.
In effect,you pay for a maritime patrol aircraft and get a strategic strike capability for free.

5.The Armed Forces Minister said recently that it was technically feasible for Storm Shadow to be carried by Harrier.
There are a lot of explanations as to why it was not integrated,many of them are nonsense.
The flaps issue is at least plausible.
However,I have never come across any official statements which say there were technical reasons for not integrating Storm Shadow on Harrier,there are a number of official statements saying it could be done.

As current events demonstrate,the closer basing of the carrier aircraft allows them to generate more hours on station and sorties per aircraft per day with a smaller,cheaper fleet and less or even no aerial refuelling.
That has been the case in almost every major warfighting operation over the last 65 years.

With the limited number of Force Elements at Readiness which the United Kingdom can afford to maintain that is of critical importance.

With so few deployable aircraft it is not possible to maintain a serious round the clock Close Air Support and Combat Air Patrol in support of ground forces when operating from a land base 500 miles away with so few aircraft.

You can't beat the tyranny of distance.
That is where the Harriers come in.
We could have kept 2 or 3 Harrier squadrons if we had cut the Tornados to 3 squadrons.
That would have been more than adequate for operations like Libya.


GrandLogistics said...

Hello The Ex (Army Aircraft) Engineer,

rationalising the aircraft fleet is very important,we should have been doing that for the last 70 years.
Your name suggests you will understand why better than most.

But it has to be remembered that rationalising the fleet is a means to creating greater efficiency.
In this case retaing the Tornado fleet is costing about 7 times as much as retaining the Harrier fleet yet Tornado is delivering far fewer daily sorties and hours on station than Harrier would have done over Libya.

An awful lot of other units will have to be cut to pay for Tornado,unfortunately many of those will be Army units.

The tankers are another procurement tragedy.
Despite buying an off the shelf capability,we bought the wrong specification and bought it in the most expensive and least flexible manner.
If there is a project that proves Britain's defence procurement problems lie within the Ministry of Defence rather than with industry,Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft is it.

One alternative role they might have been useful for is the Nimrod R1 replacement.

For most other roles the Nimrod M.R.A.4 would have been a better platform.

Good point about the defender,it is very interesting to compare the return on investment for money spend on Army and Navy aviation with that for the Royal Air Force.
There is a long history of the Royal Air Force providing a poor return on the money it spends.
Britain nearly lost the Second World War as a result.

Would the Royal Flying Corps have lost the Battle of France because it put so much of it's resources in to a strategic bombing fleet rather than tactical aviation?


Anonymous said...

Typical ignorance. Tornado wasn't made by British, the evvil German and the Italians are part of it so it is bad...

The last 50 years "ace" comments were amusing in that for example.
Were are the Boz chaff launchers in Harrier? the drop tanks?

I only will refer one more thing Storm Shadow:would you want to put a 1300kg missile in an small plane like an Harrier?!

Private jet los angeles said...

In all the Nimrod M.R.A.4 would have been a better platform and they might have been useful. I read long history of the Royal Air Force, it is very interesting to compare the return on investment for money spend on Army and Navy aviation with that for the Royal Air Force.

Luxury private jet service

Anonymous said...

I find this site very interesting place, lots of food for thought. I dont have an axe to grind but am open minded about our armed forces. Here is my tuppence worth.

My background is 20+ years as a military aircraft systems engineer. I have worked on Typhoon and Tornado ADV, plus others. I have friends in industry who worked on mods to support the harriers in Afghanistan who are familiar with feedback received about its performance there.

The harrier did a great job in Afghanistan. Its serviceability is much higher than a Tornado; thus you need more Tornados than Harriers, just to fly the same number of sorties; Tornado has 2 crew, Harrier 1.

If the Harrier was doing such a good job for 5 years, why replace it now with Tornado?

The suggestions I have heard and seen (e.g. parliamentary records) suggest it was a politically motivated move by the RAF:
Getting rid of the Harrier removed fast jet aircraft from Royal Navy service; the RAF was now the only "supplier" of fast jets for UK conflicts.
Getting the Tornado into action justifies its existence; otherwise here was the RAF with these very expensive jets (Typhoon and Tornado) and yet it was the Humble Harrier that was doing the fighting and doing it well; that would have not looked good to the RAF.

The Sea Harrier FRS2 was a very capable aircraft; would it have been better to have kept these and reduce the Tornados?

I may be naive, but I think UK has its strategy wrong for how it projects air power. The RAF is deemed the main custodian of this task.
Would it not be better for the the RAF role to be that of defense of the UK mainland, the Army should have its own forces (I know it does have helicopters) for close air support and the Navy via carriers to be the means to project air power beyond our shores?

Would have liked to have had 2 proper new carriers i.e. larger with cats & traps; far more effective, flexible (can operate aircraft from other forces), mobile and multifunctional.

Think JSF a disaster; expensive and it will kill off so much UK expertise in combat aircraft systems; I undertsand the deal is the USA develops the juicy bits (e.g. weapons systems, etc) and the UK gets a few mundane bits (e.g. landing gear). Maintenance/upgrades will be heavily dependent on US servicing (e.g. cost more).

Would like to hear views form others on these points.