Debate has escalated over the UK government’s controversial decision to retire its last BAE Systems Harrier GR9 ground-attack aircraft late last year, with the Royal Air Force’s current involvement in action over Libya having focused attention on the issue.
An article published April 18th in the UK newspaper The Sun showed mothballed Harriers in storage at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland under the headline “Harrier dump jets”. The article says that the UK’s contribution to the NATO-led campaign to protect Libyan civilians from attack by forces loyal to leader Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime could be delivered more cheaply by using Harriers from a Royal Navy CVS-class aircraft carrier.
Speaking before the article’s publication, chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton has defended the Ministry of Defence’s decision to retire the Harrier in favor of safeguarding the bulk of the Tornado GR4 fleet, describing it as “in cold logic, unavoidable”.
With reference to the Libyan operation, Dalton said: “The Tornados have delivered Storm Shadows to penetrate hardened buildings and the dual-mode Brimstone, neither of which could have been delivered by the Harrier.”
“I am not knocking the Harrier, just those who have, often willfully, overstated its relative utility in this scenario,” he told the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace 2011 conference in London on 13 April.
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