Saturday, April 30, 2011

Another Great one leaves us


BORN: November 28, 1923 DIED: April 26, 2011, aged 87

“WE can recover the islands – and we must” were the memorable words used by Sir Henry Leach, the then Chief of Naval Staff, to convince Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to recapture the Falkland Islands in 1982.
Sir Woodward was the one who materially took back the islands leading the Task Force south, but Henry Leach made the operation possible and ensured political support for it. 

If the Falklands have been retaken from Argentina, it is first of all his very merit. 
His intervention proved to be the turning point of the entire Falklands crisis, and saved the RN from devastating, absurd cuts which arguably were the cause of the war in the South Atlantic. 

Henry Conyers Leach was born in Devon and educated at St Peter’s Court School in Broadstairs, Kent.

He joined the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon, as a cadet at 13, two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. From 1941 to 1943 he served as a midshipman on cruisers in the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans before moving on to the battleship HMS Duke of York where he took part in the Battle of the North Cape.
Four years later he became a gunnery specialist and after a series of junior staff posts Leach got his first command, the destroyer HMS Dunkirk, from 1959 to 1961. In 1971 he became Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff and by 1977 had risen sufficiently through the ranks to become Commander-in-Chief Fleet.

Leach was appointed First Sea Lord in 1979 and the year before the Falklands crisis he had clashed with the Government over major cuts to the Navy, including the planned sale of the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible.

He considered resigning but in the aftermath of the Falklands, many of the cuts were reversed, including Invincible. Leach was appointed Knight Commander (KCB) in 1977 and Knight Grand Cross (GCB) the following year.

On his retirement in 1982 he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Headquarters in Portsmouth was named the Sir Henry Leach Building in his honour.

His wife Mary, the daughter of Admiral Sir Henry McCall, died in 1991. He is survived by their two daughters.

He is another hero i say farewell to. May his soul find peace and eternal happiness.

I hate Blogger

Tried to edit the Army future page to add the last news about C-RAM systems in the world, and when i published the page edited, the goddamn Blogger did not just totally erase the new things i added, but randomly cancelled almost the entire page. Hours of work gone to hell.
This is the most absurd and annoying thing EVER.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Libya ops: inert warheads, aircraft carriers, Italy and marketing

So, Italy has reportedly carried out its first two Libya air stikes. I'll admit i'm amazed that the air force was allowed to do it for real... knowing the politicians we have, i doubted in a serious commitment.

I'm really glad to be proven wrong for once.

Three Tornado IDS flying from the airbase of Trapani Birge employed GBU-16 laser guided bombs against Gaddafi's vehicles, and two AV8B Harrier II + of the Navy did follow suit, employing GBU-32 JDAMs to hit a compound - apparently one of the command centres already hit by the coalition, which hadn't quite been disabled and needed a second touch.
The AV8B Harriers came from the aircraft carrier (ergh, honestly, through-deck cruiser works better) Garibaldi, which is the third "aircraft carrier" employed in Libya, after Charles de Gaulle and USS Kearsarge, a US Marines unit which launched Harrier strikes in the early hours of Odyssey Dawn.

Of course, the enemies of the truth will always bang their heads about carriers being not necessary and land bases doing fine. A map, in its simplicity, proves them wrong.

Sigonella, the NATO airbase closer to the areas of the fighting, is well over 400 miles away. Gioia Del Colle, from which UK assets operate, is even further away, up to 800 or more miles away from the targets.
And note that Libya is a "lucky" operation, because the area of the battle is straight ahead of NATO's "natural aircraft carrier" (carrier haters never use its nickname, curiously) Italy. Akrotiri could be used, but aside from being well far away, Cyprus has officially asked the UK to avoid launching Libya-related missions from the airbases on the island, and the UK government has accepted. Even Italy at one point threatened to make the bases unavailable during the early confusion about who exactly had to lead the coalition's ops over Libya.
This shows, once more, all the limits of land bases, whenever they are.
And the cost of fuel for the strike ops and the constant need for air refuelling, alone, are another good pro-carrier argument.  Libya can of course be tackled even without carriers. But this means accepting all the costs and limitations of not doing it.

And next time it might prove simply not possible to properly mount an operation without the capability to deploy airpower indipendently from any foreign agreement and soil concession.

But overlooking this always white-hot argument, i'll move forwards to a few other interesting news:

France is using "inert" training bombs for killing Gaddafi tanks in urban areas. This is a curious news that caught my eye, but thinking about it, one has to say that it is not a bad idea at all: a 454 kg block of concrete coming down in a dive from 10.000 meters has some very serious kinetic power, while the absence of explosive reduces the collater damage drastically.
As a further premium factor, inert warheads for training are cheapter than 'true' bombs. It might be a good idea for the RAF, as well, which regularly use inert bombs made of concrete and fitted with Paveway guidance kits in training exercises.

On the marketing front, now the India deal for 126 jet fighters is a duel: only the Typhoon and Rafale have been shortlisted, and thanks to Libya both planes have shown their military worth.
Rafale has admittedly had more to show: the french are ahead in terms of weapon integration and pilots training, so that their fighters have been able to do more than RAF Typhoons (and much more than Italian Typhoons, which lack even that "austere" land attack capability that RAF's FRG4s have), but the Typhoon is advantaged by (reportedly) better terms of technology transfer, and it was reportedly very liked by the indian pilots who had a chance to fly on it during trials. Rafale had nearly been dropped out of the competition early on instead.

Typhoon is long reported as the favorite in the run, and while the Rafale should not be undervalued, i will add my little thought: my biggest worry was the american political weight. The US have all but told India that the extent of the relationship between the two countries was heavily dependant from the fighter jet contest... yet India officially dropped both F16 and F/A-18. A clear political message.
And also a signal that both the F16 and F/A-18, which still are undoubtedly good machines, are however inexorably growing old and outdated.

The road for the Typhoon might really be open now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Finally doing our little bit

As italian, i must say i'm relived that finally my country has agreed to take on a part of the strain of Libya ops. So far, we have provided the bases (some of which are NATO ones anyway, and can hardly be considered a pure italian contribution other than because they are italian soil) and some pointless flights of fighters flying over Libya to scare planes that exist no more after the Tomahawks crumbled their bases.

Still the best

It is said that the answer of a british admiral to an US one welcoming him with the words "I'm of the US Navy, the biggest navy in the world" was "I'm from the Royal Navy, the BEST navy in the world".
British armed forces are known worldwide for their professionalism and high standards, and the very sole name of certain corps, from the SAS to the Gurkhas to the Red Devils to the RAF and Royal Navy and Marines is enough to see respect and admiration shine.
Even after years of savage cutbacks, the British Armed Forces still often prove to be the best.

And in fact, British Officer Cadets taking part in this year's Sandhurst Cup in America have won the top two best international team positions.
The British Cadets also won the Navigational Streamer, presented to the overall winner of the land navigation section of the two day challenge.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fleet Air Arm, RAF, the past and the future

Think Defence is a wonderful blog, and a great source of good info, in particular when it comes to often neglected subjects such as logistics, both modern and of the past wars. But there is something about which I really can’t agree with TD, and that’s the proposal, which often pops up, of having the RAF taking over the FAA and AAC. 

There’s a lot of good reasons, I find, to say that this approach would only deal great damage to the british armed forces and to the MOD’s budget. Swallowing the Fleet Air Arm is, admittedly, a RAF dream that is ancient in origins, and that in the years has been growing more and more likely to happen at some point: the Joint Force Harrier is a good indicator of how the RAF is trying – so far with success – to take control of the FAA, or at least of the fixed-wing part of it. A move that might be completed with the entry into service of the JCA, aka the F35C. This fits the idea of TD, of the RAF officers and of a number of members of the MOD. But are there good reasons to have the FAA scaled down or swallowed up by the RAF? 

At a first glance, the Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm, given their (relatively) small sizes appear like duplications of the RAF structure, in particular because the RAF flies Chinook in utility role, which is the role that you’d expect the army aviation to cover.

But when you start looking in deep into the matter?

In particular when it comes to direct comparison of FAA and RAF, there are actually several factors that make me say that the real deal would be to make the RAF more Fleet Air Arm-like.
It is also worth observing that the RAF operating Chinooks is not a good point, or a smart invention. Actually, it is an anomaly with no real counter altar in the world. Chinooks and, in general, battlefield utility helicopters are operated, worldwide, by the Army or anyway by a specialized branch of the Army.
This is true for the USA, for FRANCE (ALAT), for Italy (AVES), for Japan, for Germany, for India, for Indonesia, Iran, Argentina etc etc. It is a long list. Airforces bigger than the RAF have (relatively) small helicopter units for airbase-related work or Special Forces missions (US and Japan), but delegate the utility, troop transport and MEDEVAC role to army-owned and army-flown helicopters. There’s no real reason because the RAF should use the Chinooks: this by now years-old arrangement is due to ridiculous “laws” put into being by the RAF itself, which tried to make sure than anything “big” and “fixed wing” would be RAF marked, whenever possible. There is even issues with the RAF wanting to be given any pressurized airframe, which is why the Army Air Corps is stuck to old Islander airplanes while the Shadow R.1 (based on the Beechcraft King Air 350) have been given to 5th “Army Cooperation” Squadron, despite them being required by the Army Air Corps for use in support of troops in Afghanistan. Now, I do not doubt of the professionalism of RAF crews and I’m sure they do their best to support their army colleagues at the best of their capabilities, but I find the RAF squadrons marked by “army cooperation” badge a ridiculous excuse for the Air Force to grab assets traditionally and operationally army-centric and army-oriented.

Even more marked is the separation between Air Forces and Naval Air Forces, worldwide. The FAA is not a duplication, nor an unique world case: it is the consequence of the unique challenges of operating off ships, at sea, for roles such as anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, up to expeditionary fighter and strike power via carrierborne squadrons of jets. Again, mostly anyone in the world with a navy ambitious enough to have flying assets embarked on ships has them working as part of the Navy, in a Naval Air Force branch. Again, the anomaly that can be seen in the UK was actually due to the Nimrod being RAF-owned and RAF-flown, while normal arrangement would see the naval aviation in charge of the Marittime Patrol Aircrafts.  

The sea is an extremely unpredictable element. It covers the majority of the globe, is an open highway for all who wish to use it and throughout history has provided an opportunity for pirates, military enemies and now terrorists to attack our maritime merchant trading interests. Merchant shipping can, with good forecasting and care, minimise the effect of Neptune’s occasional wrath. But providing protection for such shipping against those that would harm us is an entirely different matter. The bulk of British imports and exports travel by sea and rely upon the Royal Navy to provide a strategically flexible and mobile force that can pre-empt the uncertainties of the modern world where our global defence, diplomatic and trade interests may be threatened. Balanced maritime forces are necessary to achieve this with an umbrella of protection that comes from visible naval power and associated deterrence.

Naval personnel including aviators need to have considerable knowledge of these widely ranging tasks and their interdependency. Arguably this can only be realised through continuous exposure to active Fleet operations at sea and in the littoral.  This is where the underlying ethos of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force is completely different. The Navy and indeed the Fleet Air Arm represents a sophisticated integrated weapon system whose effectiveness as a whole is far greater than the sum of all the parts and with the resultant end product far more important than any one type of equipment or specific capability. Few, if any, of the RAF fast jet pilots have had prolonged periods at sea in which to absorb adequate knowledge of the complex Fleet Weapons System, despite the Joint Force Harrier initiative. As a consequence they lack appropriate qualification for the embarked naval air warfare role. This qualification cannot be obtained in a classroom ashore or through occasional “part time” embarkations of a week or two here and there. 

In general, the RAF operates on an air base-oriented routine with their personnel having each weekend at home with the family and having predictable holidays, albeit on a flexible basis, three times every year in line with their civilian counterparts. Night flying is, during peacetime, the biggest (but still mild) interference factor with this harmonious way of life. For the most part, the RAF aviator enjoys a 9 to 5 work routine. 

Operationally, the land-based flying task is very much less demanding than operations aboard ships. Long, broad, static runways ensure that launch and recovery (take-off and landing) is relatively safe and routine. There is a large room for error, miscalculation or lack of concentration. Further, the RAF tends to specialise its aircraft and pilots in particular roles; specifically either Air Defence or Ground Attack/Offensive Air Support, Transport or Support Helicopters, Search and Rescue, Airborne Early Warning, Air-to-Air Refuelling, etc. This markedly reduces the aviator’s workload and expectations in terms of overall air warfare expertise.

The principal hazard to land-based fighter operations is the weather which can normally be adequately predicted. Further, diversion airfields are always specified prior to flight so that if there is an accident on the runway or the weather suddenly dictates that aircraft cannot be recovered at their home base, alternative landing fields are always available. In addition and of particular relevance, unlike a ship’s deck, airfield runways do not move around in bad weather. This makes landing an aircraft in marginal weather conditions much less stressful and difficult.

The carrier at sea represents an entirely different world to a shore-based airfield. It is a compact floating weapon system with many integral parts. For its personnel it is, therefore, no different from life in any destroyer, frigate or a minesweeper.
The ship’s company which includes all embarked personnel, including aircrew, engineers, medics and logisticians, enjoy an existence that is far removed in quality and content from that of their civilian or land based colleagues. They are confined to an existence in a steel box from which they cannot easily escape. As Samuel Johnson once wrote, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.” They are separated from their friends, wives and families for many long months and cannot respond rapidly to domestic problems and difficulties. This separation places a great strain on the families left behind and can be demoralising and extremely stressful for the embarked sailor – especially when crises at home occur. Yet, naval personnel knows this and accept it from when they join the service. For them, land deployments is much easier and much more comfortable than the standard service life they accept.

Unlike an airfield on shore, the active safety and operation of the ship is a 24/7 responsibility, even in peacetime. Weekends do not exist during deployment. The smooth functioning and operability of an aircraft carrier demands continuous and fastidious attention to detail and a full integration of all the differing specialisations embarked; whether these are ships engineers, flight deck handlers, operations room personnel, watch keeping personnel, armourers, medics, cooks and caterers, or aircrew.

For safety reasons in particular, all embarked personnel must know their ship well. Hazards facing the ship and crew are numerous and vary from violent weather, fire on board, collision risk to crashes on the flight deck. The ship’s company must be on its guard continuously and be ready and prepared to cope with any emergency; which is why, for example, all personnel are required to have detailed training in damage control, fire-fighting, survival and other safety-at-sea issues. Every man is fully involved in “fighting the ship” during action stations, if only to ensure his own and his shipmates’ survival. Each is fully aware that their ship may be the next target.

The maritime environment can be extremely hostile both to men and to machines, including aircraft. The salt laden air has a corrosive quality that is unremitting. Aircraft and other equipment must be particularly designed to counter this with the use of special alloys and materials. Inevitably, the maintenance of modern state-of-the-art weapons systems is much more demanding in the embarked environment and requires more detailed attention and hard work from ship’s and aircraft engineers.
Flight deck operations are extremely complex and dangerous – there is no room for error by any party. Each man must know his job thoroughly and understand precisely the part that others around him have to play. All the functions carried out on an airfield ashore that covers hundreds of acres have to be conducted within the close confines of the flight deck – as well as additional functions such as catapult launch and arrested landings that use the same space.  And several of these functions are incompatible with the concurrent operation of others due to the confined deck space.

There is no place for casual visitors or part timers in this extremely hazardous environment. Instead, all carrier-associated personnel including the air group must go through a series of work-ups that familiarise them with the complex working of the flight deck and air operations from it. These work-ups are essential to the long-term safety of all concerned and culminate in an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) in which the ship has to demonstrate its ability to conduct intensive flying operations safely from the deck by day and by night. No individual or group can absent themselves from such operational preparation, particularly aviators and the aviation department. Following the ORI, the ship will proceed to sea and over subsequent months fine-tune its flight deck and flying operations as well as its other armaments.

For the fast jet pilot, operations on board a carrier during peacetime operations represent significantly greater challenges to his expertise and dedication than those faced by his counterpart ashore. Same goes for the helicopter crews which must take off and land from a small frigate.  
Conventional carrier deck landing into arrestor wires, which now is what the UK is heading towards after choosing the F35C, is an art in itself requiring 100% concentration and extremely precise control of speed, aircraft attitude and glide path (in the vertical as well as the lateral sense). The touchdown area where the tail hook of the aircraft catches the arrestor wire is extremely small and any lapse in concentration can cause pilots to miss the wires completely or, catastrophically, impact the stern of the ship. As if this was not enough, the flow of the wind over the deck often creates “a hole” just behind the ship. This has to be anticipated by the pilot by applying a small amount of power. Failure to correct can result in disaster. Too much correction will result in missing the wires and the aircraft “bolting” down the deck and having to go around once more. In calm, benign sea conditions this can still represent a major challenge to an inexperienced carrier deck pilot. In rough seas with the ship pitching, rolling and heaving, the challenge becomes much greater. Conducting night deck landings in poor weather represents the most difficult and challenging flying task that any military pilot will face in any environment. Vertical landings with an F35B would have been almost as challenging, at least during foul weather, and in any case vertical landing on a ship, even as big as CVF, would have been much harder than landing ashore. It is also to be noted that the F35B won’t be realistically able to land vertically most of the time because of Vertical Bring Back weight problems: no arrestor wires to catch, sure, but had the F35B been procured, there would have been anyway a real need to learn carrier landing approach in order to perform the infamous Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing.

The number of RAF Harrier pilots cleared in the last years for “Full Weather” service on the HMS Ark Royal are very low, and someone suggests that actually no one of the RAF pilots actually had it in the last few years, because in order to fit into Harmony Guidelines, the RAF squadrons of the Joint Force Harrier could fit no other activity in their schedule than Afghanistan tours.  800 NAS made the same tours AND tours on the aircraft carrier without breaching navy guidelines. Big limitation, one we would not want to have in future with the F35! 

A further significant challenge/stress factor for carrier aviators is that they will often be flying with no diversion airfields available: that is to say, their only chance of returning on board without getting wet is to be fully competent in their navigation and the pilot’s deck landing ability.
When embarked, all squadron personnel need to play a full part in non-flying aspects of life on board, especially when in harbour/visiting foreign ports. For example, Lieutenants will be employed on the Officer of the Day roster and Lieutenant Commanders will be employed on the Duty Lt Cdr roster. These positions require a detailed knowledge of the working of the ship as well as a developed understanding of the personnel on board – and those returning on board from a night ashore! The safety and routine operation of the ship in harbour is controlled by these officers and there can be no excuse for aircrew officers not playing their part or, more importantly, not being fully trained to fulfil such responsibilities.

It is worth remembering that in practically all modern conflicts offshore naval air power has been the key element in providing for control of the airspace over the combat zone. It has also been responsible for more than 80% of the interdiction missions launched against land targets during the initial phases of conflict (whether Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan). Leaving the US out of this and thinking exquisitely in terms of what the UK did on its own (which is somehow a flawed way to proceed, anyway, because as part of coalition ops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the UK benefitted from that 80% of strike missions flown by US Navy jets) we can note that the carrierborne aviation was the most notable contribution of the UK to the war in Korea (RAF only provided a few pilots which flew in US squadrons of Sabre jet fighters), flew two-thirds of the sorties over Suez, was the key contributor in the Falklands, provided air policing and escort flights for RAF Harriers over Bosnia, flew as part of the UK force involved in Iraq’s No Fly Zone, made the Al-Fawn amphibious assault in Iraq in 2003 possible, provided a tangible presence outside Sierra Leone and, in the shape of the 800 NAS squadron as part of the Joint Force Harrier, covered the Afghanistan theater’s need for air support in and out with continuous deployments over 5 years in a row.   
The embarked naval aviator is fully mentally prepared for such engagement in active operations and understands the need for being fully prepared to carry out such warlike missions. The nature of naval deployments is that there is not really such a thing such as “peacetime”, because the sea is an enemy that needs to be confronted every day, and being away from home and family for months is not an exception but the rule.

A carrier pilot is not considered fully qualified as a front-line all weather pilot until he has mastered the art of fighting his aircraft and returning it safely to the deck in all weathers by day and night. With constant practice and the expertise that can only come from having conducted numerous deck landings in different weathers, first tour pilots may eventually reach full all weather qualification. This is one of the many reasons why it is essential for the squadrons to be embarked whenever a carrier puts to sea for exercise or offshore operations. The Command, as well as common sense, requires the carrier weapon system as a whole to be ready by day and night to meet any contingency. The squadrons are an important part of that weapon system, providing over the horizon long range air defence, surveillance, anti-submarine warfare capability, strike and offensive support of ground operations.

Prior to commencing flying, officers of each service receive special-to-type training at their respective Colleges; either RAF Cranwell or BRNC Dartmouth. This initial training develops an instinct for the expectations and demands of the individual Service and is crucial to the manner in which a young officer develops and views life in the service.  Each Service has developed a different ethos and culture.
The expectations of a young RAF officer are
  • That his career will be based on land and primarily within the UK
  • That he will enjoy an enhanced level of harmony – rarely being required to be separated from his family and children
  • That all personnel within the RAF are there exclusively to support their pilots and the flying operations

The expectations of a young Naval officer are
  • That he will spend a high proportion of his early career (up to the rank of Lt Cmdr) at sea in Her Majesty’s warships
  • That he will be separated from his wife and children frequently and often for long months.
  • That in spite of his expertise he is just one small cog (albeit an important one) in the Fleet Weapons System and needs to integrate fully with that weapons system.
  • Fleet Air Arm aircrew, being an integral part of the Royal Navy, have career expectations within the senior service that includes the command of ships and the attainment of a high naval rank. Their conduct, dedication to duty and loyalty reflects such expectations. Embarked RAF aircrew do not have the same expectations and their allegiance will naturally lie with their own service and the different expectations of that service. Where conflicts occur, this can only be to the detriment of the fighting efficiency of the ship.

Both RAF and R.N. pilots undergo Basic Flying Training and Advanced Flying Training under the auspices of the Royal Air Force. During these two stages of training, the highest standards are demanded of the student pilots and they are systematically graded to establish their aptitude and ability. There is an extremely high failure rate. Those with the highest aptitude and ability are selected for fast jet operational training; provided that they have reached a ‘high enough standard’.
That standard is predicated on the corporate view of the training staff who take into account many different factors including:
  • Basic flying skills
  • Ability to cope with several tasks at once in addition to simply flying the aircraft (such as operating the radar, weapon system and navigation equipment – and controlling multi-aircraft missions)
  • Whether the student pilot would be a danger to the safety of himself in the demanding fast jet environment
  • Whether the student pilot would be a danger to the safety of other pilots that he will be flying with and that will be relying upon him.
Provided the student pilot satisfies these expectations, he will move on to Operational Flying Training in the aircraft type that he has been selected for. Those student pilots who fall short of these high expectations but who are considered safe to operate helicopter, transport and logistics aircraft will be sent for final training in the appropriate field.
Within the highly skilled group of student pilots selected for fast jet training, the training staff will have made recommendations concerning the potential of the student for qualifying in the frontline on a particular type of fast jet/fighter aircraft.  Those with the highest potential and the greatest perceived overall flying aptitude will be selected for the most demanding operational flying tasks. The Harrier force is where the highest rated pilots in the Royal Air Force used to go.
Within the Royal Navy, only the highest rated pilots are accepted from training and these are all destined for front-line fixed wing squadrons. But in contrast to the Royal Air Force selection procedure, the pilots destined for front line, embarked, multirole carrier operations are further screened to establish their full aptitude for such operations which can be very much more demanding than equivalent land-based ones. Those who fail to make the grade have the opportunity to transfer to helicopter flying training.

For more than seven decades the expertise level of fixed wing Fleet Air Arm pilots has been passed on naturally from ‘the old and bold’ to the fresh young faces in the squadrons. This has of course been through word of mouth as well as observation and the desire to learn and succeed. However, that expertise has also been enshrined in progressive editions of Squadron Standing Orders, Standard Operating Procedures, Operational Instructions and Tactical Manuals.

A significant insurance for the continuation of appropriate war fighting expertise came with the introduction of the Air Warfare Instructor. This specialist qualification has always been reserved for those aviators who have demonstrated exceptional aggression, leadership, dedication and a high level of operational capability in the front line. The Air Warfare Instructor qualification was aspired to by most Squadron pilots but few were selected and even fewer were able to pass the demanding ground school and flying modules of the course. Only the very highest standards of leadership in the air were acceptable and the AWI became the accepted authority within each frontline squadron for all tactics, training and weapons instruction in all roles. Often, the Squadron Commanding Officer and/or the second in command would also enjoy the AWI qualification but the responsibility for the attainment of first-class war fighting expertise within the Squadron remained the recognised responsibility of the Squadron AWI.

AWI expertise has proven to be invaluable to Squadron command as well as to carrier command, especially when planning for and conducting combat operations. There is therefore a recognised hierarchy of carrier aviation experience and expertise that is necessary for the efficient and flexible conduct of training and of combat operations. In most circumstances, the Commanding Officer and the Senior Pilot will have had several frontline embarked tours under their belts and, as such, will have the necessary experience to run the Squadron effectively in the embarked environment. The Squadron AWI supports the command by overseeing the operational, flight safety awareness, training and competence of all aircrew and the Squadron Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) is the acknowledged mentor for the standardisation and improvement of flying practices including Instrument Flying. This structure ensures that the junior/younger members of the Squadron have a knowledge base available that they can respect and learn from.
Empire Test Pilot (ETP) qualification is also available to a small number of front line pilots and Air Engineer Officers.  Many Air Engineers qualify as Maintenance Test Pilots (MTP) after they have fully qualified at sea.  Their experienced input into the development and testing of naval aircraft is essential for ensuring the right capabilities of front line, carrier borne aircraft.

There are key senior positions within the ship’s company that are essential for the effective conduct and coordination of air group operations. It has always been the norm and is, in all logic, essential that these positions are filled by carrier qualified aviators of equivalent experience and knowledge to that of the squadron commanders. Here, it should be noted that a carrier air group usually consists of Fixed and Rotary wing aircraft and therefore adequate career exposure to the roles, tasks and capabilities of each aircraft type is essential for certain senior figures. Experience has shown that lack of such exposure prevents an individual from conducting effectively the command functions required on board and has a detrimental effect on the operational capability of the air group as a whole.

The captain is responsible for working up his ship’s company and his air group so that the ship will conduct itself safely and operate to its best ability. He has Heads of Department to supervise sections such as Air, Engineering, Supply and Seaman. The senior aviator on board is the Commander (Air) (generally known as “Wings”) who is the direct adviser to the Captain on all aspects of aviation within the ship. He has general responsibility for the operational and domestic conduct of the air group. His right-hand man is known as Lt Cdr (Flying) (generally known as “Little F”) and he is principally responsible for the safe movement and control of aircraft operating to and from the deck. Other equally important appointments include the Flight Deck Officer (FDO) who controls all movements on the flight deck and the Landing Sight Officer (LSO) who is responsible for “talking down” aircraft on the approach to the deck and grading the quality of the approach and the deck landing, thus ensuring high standards and the preservation of flight safety. Other important appointments include Air Operations Officers, Direction Officers and Carrier Controlled Approach Officers.

In parallel, the Observers who fly in anti-submarine and early warning helicopters have little in common with their RAF counterparts.  They hold qualifications that are directly compatible with ships and are inter-operable.  Much the same can be said of the Rating aircrewmen.  On the air engineering side there is a hierarchy of highly qualified aviation engineers or Air Engineer Officers (AEOs) who carry out similar supervisory and command duties to their aviator counterparts. Their sphere of influence encompasses Squadron engineering standards, certain aspects of flight deck operations and Hangar Control and aircraft maintenance.

All of the above need to have in-depth experience of embarked carrier operations without which they would be unable to conduct their work effectively. Although members of the air group, they generally remain with the ship both in harbour and at sea and are an integral part of the ship’s company. RAF personnel cannot offer this kind of service, nor can be asked to be present aboard the ships continuously: if they are required to operate to these completely different standards, they arguably become FAA personnel, and are RAF no more.
It is considerably harder for RAF personnel to serve at sea than it is challenging for FAA personnel serve ashore, for a whole lot of reasons.

Other good reasons to keep the FAA dear

It is now worth reasoning in terms of deployability, taking into account the Tour Interval Guidelines and Separated Service Harmony Guidelines of each service. Harmony Guidelines are designed to ensure harmony between competing aspects of Service personnel's lives: operations, time recuperating after operations, personal and professional development, unit formation and time with families. Two measures of harmony are used: Unit Tour Intervals and Separated Service. Unit Tour Intervals measure the frequency of deployment. Separated Service measures absence from normal place of duty or lack of freedom to enjoy leisure at the normal place of duty. Separated Service includes activities not captured by Unit Tour Intervals like pre- deployment training, exercises, public duties, recruitment activities, and other duties which result in personnel not sleeping in usual accommodation. 

The MoD began consistently reporting Unit Tour Intervals and Separated Service in 2006, although some data was collected already before then. Each Service has different criteria for Harmony Guidelines, reflecting different operational practices.

The guidelines can be found on the official government documents, and you can read them here. 
Unit Tour Intervals (UTI) guidelines by service

Naval Service: Fleet Units to spend maximum of 60% deployed in 36 months. These conditions of service apply to the whole RN, inclusive of Royal Marines Commandos, Commando Helicopter Force and Fleet Air Arm, even though Tours in Afghanistan see the Marines deployed in support of the Army, in a scheduled built to Army guidelines: as such, the 3rd Commando Brigade normally deploys every 4 tours. (4 x 6 = every 24 monhts, as army units)

[This can be exemplified by observing how 42, 45 Commandos and 29 Commandos Royal Artillery have deployed in Herrick V, then again on Herrick IX and are doing so again as part of Herrick XIV, with their deployment to be complete by April. 40 Commando deploys, under Army command, also every 24 months: it did so, for example, in Herrick VII and then as part of Herrick XII, and will deploy again in Herrick XVI]

Note that, however, the RM Commandos add to these tours a whole range of other long term deployments away from home, since their role is to cover Artic warfighting, which requires yearly exercises in Norway, and they are also tasked with Amphibious Assault, for which at least one full Commando unit embarks for a yearly exercise (currently Cougar 2011, in the Mediterranean).

Army: 24 month average interval between unit tours. Tour length is normally 6 months.

RAF: 16 month average interval between Unit tours, with a tour lenght of 4 months.

Separated Service guidelines by Service

Naval Service: In any 36 month period, no one to exceed 660 days Separated Service.

Army: In any 30 month period, no one to exceed 415 days Separated Service.

RAF: In an 12 month period, not more than 2.5% of personnel to exceed 140 days Separated Service.

The most receptive ones will have noticed that the UTI and Separated Service Guidelines of the Navy are almost exactly equal! 660 days indeed is roughly the 60% of 36 months period in deployment.
Assuming, for comfort, 30 days for month, for 36 months, is 1080 days. The 60% of it is 648 days. I believe that the correct figure, with months calculated properly, would give the very same 660 days of Separated Service tour guidelines. 660 days means 22 months in deployments of indicatively 6 to 9 months each. 

Notably, despite the demanding guidelines, the report underlines that "the Royal Navy is able to meet its targets through front line gapping", which tells us that, despite broadly meeting its guidelines, the Naval Service is as stretched as the others.

For the Army. 24 months period between a six months deployment in combat zone (Unit Tour Guidelines) and a maximum of 415 days of combat/training/out of area deployment on a 30 months period. 415 days is a good 13 months.
Over 30 months, army personnel can be asked to deploy once in combat zone, for six months, and spend many more months away from “home” for exercises and pre-deployment training.
Reading Table 5, at, a few useful observations can be made: in 2004/05 demand was very high and hardly met because of simultaneous commitment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Between 2003 and 2005 there was also an high demand for armoured infantry and tank personnel, mostly due to commitment in Iraq, and the small size of the Royal Armoured Corps (to worsen in the coming years) meant missing the harmony targets substantially. 

By 2006/07, demand of Royal Armoured Corps personnel diminished, and they were having in average 28 months of break, more than the break normally envisaged. Their role by now had turned into their current task as drivers for vehicles such as Mastiff and Warthog. 
Infantry continued to be stretched, with 21 months breaks, but the areas that truly are under strain in the Army emerge as: 

- Royal Artillery with 20.7 months of break between tours
- Royal signals with only 18.4 

I was admittedly surprised to see that the Royal Logistic Corp instead was nearly meeting the guidelines, with 23.3 average months of break.

RAF personnel is given 16 months between a deployment and another, and in 12 months it can only do 140 days away from home.
Tour length is four months, and in the 12 months in which a Squadron has had a warzone deployment the guidelines leave only around 3 weeks of out-of-area training, for example for exercises such as “Merlin Vortex” which saw the Merlin MK3 redeploy for training in Nevada, US, before they began their service in Afghanistan. 

This is valid for RAF Regiment as well, and it caused considerable strain: rotating personnel every four months inexorably meant that, soon enough, the demand for deployment started to bite into the 16 months break between tours. Reading Table 5, at, makes it evident that the RAF regiment hit rock-bottom in 2006-07 as the average break between tours fell to 10.5 months. As an answer to this, by 2009 training was underway to form a new Field Squadron and a new Force Protection Wing Headquarters (58 Field Squadron and 8 HQ Wing).

What does this mean in terms of deployability, availability for operations, and personnel levels?

We can demonstrate it quickly with the help of the three graphics I’ve prepared, building on the Harmony guidelines of the three services to develop a plan for a continuous 36 months presence in a warzone abroad.

The above graphic shows a medium-intensity Navy style deployment. 6 month tour for each squadron, 12 months between tours. There is no indication of out of area training, but during the 36 months period each squadron could still be asked to be away from home for 10 months without breaching the guidelines. 

While, as we have seen, this is not the routine for Afghanistan, this is possible if the Navy is asked to cover an operation on her own. It is preferably not done in a Joint environment such as Afghanistan because such a demanding schedule of deployments, compared to the other services's performances, would cause quite some embarassment to both Army and RAF, and of course it would probably "hurt the sensibility" (to say the very least) of the Navy personnel, required to do so much more than the others. 

As a matter of fact, however, any of you can readers can check the rules at the link i provided earlier and do the math: even more demanding deployment timelines can be fitted within Navy harmony guidelines!

The same deployment made in Army guidelines. 5 Squadrons are needed to cover the same role.  

The same deployment, finally, covered with RAF rules. It still takes 5 squadrons, as with the Army, but there's the further disadvantage that: 

- personnel needs to rotate every four months, and not every six. This means nearly doubling the strain on logistics and air transport, as personnel has to be brough back home and to the frontline many more times. 

- even less time remains to each squadron to deploy for other out-of-area, non combat deployments, with each formation having barely three weeks each year for training exercises or activity away from the home base. 

The graphics help making things clear: if we man an aircraft force with Royal Navy conditions of service, we can sustain an enduring requirement with three, or in theory even just two squadrons worth of personnel, and still have space to call the very same formations out for training exercise, presence deployments, and other activities. This would take a tremendous strain on the formations, but it is perfectly possible WITHIN the harmony guidelines, without breaching them.
This is part of why the 3rd Commando Brigade can, at once: 

-          Taking command of ops in Helmand and deploy personnel in order to have the whole 30, 42, 45 Commandos and the 29 Commando Royal Artillery in Afghanistan by April
-          Deploy a second Commando battlegroup (40 Cmdo) on board of HMS Albion and RFA Cardigan Bay for Exercise Cougar in the Mediterranean in order to keep amphibious skill alive
-          Maintaining a force of Sea Kings HC4, Sea Kings MK7 and Lynx AH9 from the Commando Helicopter Force squadrons 845, 846, 854 and 847, with 127 personnel amounting to 21% of Camp Bastion’s helicopter force, from 3 and a half year, constantly
-          Supplying further CHF Sea Kings and Marines for scheduled training in Norwey for Arctic warfare and yet more personnel, aircrafts and vehicles to HMS Bulwark in visit to London for a training/demonstration event.
-          Provide 200 more Marines for “contingency” ops aboard the ships of Cougar, ready to deploy in Libya, for a total of 800 men 

Meaning that 3 out of 3 Commando Battlegroups are deployed almost entirely, at once, along with CHF.
With Army, or worse with RAF guidelines, such an operational availability would simply not be possible.

The main operational impact occurs when the British Armed forces are engaged in enduring operations, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq – the key contrast is between the RN, RM and the Army on the one hand, and the RAF on the other. Whereas a sailor, marine or soldier is able routinely to conduct a 6 month operational tour, an airman will need to rotate at the 4 month moment to stay within his harmony guidelines. We will later see a history of the Joint Force Harrier in Afghanistan, an operation which caused many breaches of RAF Harmony guidelines because the RAF struggled to keep its personnel tours compliant to the timelines set.
Note that, while responsibility of operations nominally passed from a squadron of Joint Force Harrier to the other every four months, so to apparently breach the guidelines very significantly (a break between tours would only be of 8 months and not 16), personnel rotated across the whole joint force. 800 NAS, alone, managed its own tours without breaches of the guidelines, since its personnel is bound to RN guidelines.

The situation only got worse with the change from Harrier to Tornado GR4: to deploy the very same number of planes, it takes 24 crews and 122 ground personnel, against a figure of 11 and 87 for the Harrier. This is only partially mitigated by the fact that the Tornado community draws crews from a larger reserve of squadrons.

Of course, this is without considering costs at all.

There will be operational impacts in the future, too. A typical deployment period for an aircraft carrier – American, French, or British – is between 6 and 9 months. With their harmony rules, RAF squadrons deployed to RN carriers would need to rotate at the 4 month period, with the associated repatriation expenses as well as the loss of cohesion when a new Squadron arrives on the carrier and needs to be worked up. Fleet Air Arm squadrons, by contrast, sail and return with the ship without ‘breaking harmony’, since their harmony is the same of the rest of the ship’s crew.    
The strategic impact is also significant. When compared to the Fleet Air Arm, because RAF squadrons need to rotate at the 4 month point, twice as many RAF squadrons will be needed to man an RN aircraft carrier on a routine 6-to-9 month deployment.

One of the early examinations of carrier manning was the so-called Newton Study. This examined, amongst other things, the different services’ personnel approaches to manning a force of 48 deployable Joint Strike Fighters. On an assumed RN-RAF manning split of 50:50, the naval component required to man half the force was 81 pilots, including 9 commanders. The RAF’s figure to man the whole of the force, on the other hand, was 232 pilots, including 32 Wing Commanders.  Simple mathematics shows that, were the Fleet Air Arm to man the whole force, it would require 162 pilots, of whom 18 would be Commanders. In other words, the Fleet Air Arm would require 30% less pilots and over 40% less senior officers. Given that each service pilot requires an expensive  flying training pipeline to get him or her to the front line (and around 5.7 million pounds as of 2000, now probably a lot more), and aircraft hours to keep current once there, these are not insignificant differences or savings.

And the cost effectiveness starts, tactically, ashore. The two major naval air stations are the most densely populated, by some margin, of any of the three services’ airfields. They are densely populated with aircraft but they are also densely populated with training establishments for those personnel who will man the ship-air interface at sea. There is much mutual operational benefit in this. Naval aviators benefit from operating in crowded air space, which is akin to that of carriers, as for the same reason, do their Air Traffic Control (ATC) compatriots. But this density leads also to significant cost savings for MoD: minimum estate; minimum HQ overheads; minimum environmental impact; maximum operational outputs. Needless to say that RAF considers crowded bases not fit for purpose, and despite the current drive to close down bases, it still takes a lot of space to host a (relatively) small number of planes. 

A case study: Joint Force Harrier

The Joint Force Harrier was established on 1 April 2000 in response to the proposal brought by the British Government as part of Strategic Defence Review. Originally called Joint Force 2000, it combined the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier FA2 squadrons, previously under Naval Air Command, with the RAF's Harrier GR 7/7A GR 9/9A Squadrons in a single command within RAF 1 Group. This force was to be deployable from both Invincible-class aircraft carriers, Royal Air Force stations and deployed forward air bases. The Navy contribution was made up by 800 and 801 NAS, the two frontline squadrons flying Sea Harrier FA2, and 899 NAS, which worked as OCU for the fleet.

The RAF contribution was composed by 1st, 3rd and 4th Squadrons, plus 20(R) Squadron as OCU, all flying Harrier GR7.
All RAF Squadrons had a nominal strength of 12 airplanes to Joint Force Harrier, while the RN formations were 7-planes strong due to the smaller fleet of Sea Harriers available. 

The 4th Sqn is notable because of a period of training which included Ex SAIF SAREEA II in October 2001. The Ex included a work-up phase on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS for a month in the Mediterranean, a transit through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea before deploying to Masirah in Oman. This event was the longest period that the Sqn had spent on a carrier since the Chanak crisis over 80 years previously.

Little more than a month at sea, and it was the longest RAF deployment on a Carrier from over 80 years. You will pardon me if this only makes my fear for the chances of a RAF carrierborne efficient force only grow tenfold. 

In 2003, 4th Squadron RAF deployed on Operation Telic, from February to May 2003, in a typical-RAF four month deployment. It deployed again, this time in Afghanistan, in August 2004, for other 4 months. Its last deployment was from December to April 2009, again in Afghanistan, again for roughly four months, which gave the squadron the honor of closing the warfighting career of the Harrier, since the Joint Force was drawn out of theater to be replaced by Tornados in june.

20(R) Squadron was never deployed, being an OCU, but had to provide 4 and more of its 16 pilots/instructors to support crew rotation in Afghanistan. This arguably contributed in making it impossible to train the personnel needed to re-commission 801 NAS squadron as had been planned.

In Spring 2003 1st RAF Squadron also deployed to Iraq. The contribution of RAF Harriers to Telic in total was of 18 planes, with, notably, the firing of roughly 30 Maverick missiles.

In December 2004, 1st RAF Squadron deployed on Operation Herrick in Afghanistan for its first 4-months deployment, and subsequently sustained four month deployments roughly every year. 
The initial deployment of Harriers was of 6, then augmented to 8 with 11 crews after a need for more night-attack capability was identified.

HMS "Illustrious" deployed January 17, 2000 with seven SHARs from 801 NAS embarked on a training deployment to the Persion Gulf region. Sea Harriers flew Southern Watch missions over Iraq, and also carried out joint exercises with the Bahrani Air Force.
HMS "Illustrious" with 801 NAS embarked was then detached to Sierra Leone in May 2000 to assist UN forces fighting rebels in that country during the famous crisis. 85 Sea Harrier sorties were flown during the deployment. "Illustrious" returned to Portsmouth on June 14th 2000, after participating in two wars.

HMS "Illustrious", with Number 801 squadron's Sea Harriers and RAF (4th Squadron as we know from above) Harrier GR.7s embarked, sailed from Portsmouth with her task group on September 3rd 2001 to join "Argonaut 01", the Royal Navy's largest deployment for nearly 20 years. The deployment was the prelude to Exercise "Saif Sareea II", a major UK-Omani exercise which started on September 15th. Again, 7 Sea Harriers were embarked.

The UK MoD announced on February 28th 2002 that it was planning to withdraw the entire Sea Harrier fleet from service by 2006. The Fourth Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence published on July 10th 2002 considered the Sea Harrier's early withdrawal from service. The report's summary contained the following

"The MoD has justified its decision to withdraw the Sea Harrier 6-8 years early on 'capability' rather than cost grounds. There are savings that will flow from the decision — £135 million directly and at least another £230 million from not upgrading its engine — but these are not significant sums in terms of the potential operational ramifications. The decision reflected the technical difficulties of upgrading the Sea Harrier to maintain its operational usefulness, and the capabilities available from other systems. The principal burden of air defence for our maritime forces will now fall on the anti-air destroyers and their missile systems. The Type-45 destroyer and its PAAMS system will improve the capability for intercepting fast and agile missiles which may be fired in sea-skimming and high-diving salvoes, but only from late 2007. In the meantime, the existing Type-42 and its 1960s Sea Dart missile technology is after much delay being upgraded. These will help mitigate, but they will not close, the real capability gap that will be created by the Sea Harrier's demise." 

"At the heart of this case is the MoD's expectation that maritime task forces in the future will operate in littoral situations rather than in the open oceans, and for the most part with major allies such as the US on whom we could rely for additional air defence. In such operations, the threat to our warships is likely to manifest itself as missiles rather than aircraft, and they will be most effectively countered by the anti-missile systems on board our destroyers. In putting its confidence in more responsive but closer range systems, the MoD will need to ensure the equipment programmes on which they depend are delivered in time and in full."

The following additional points were made:
  • "Taking a third of the aircraft out of the Joint Force Harrier operating fleet [from 83 down to 51] represents a significant diminution of carrier-capable fixed-wing maritime aviation"
  • "Upgrading the [Harrier] GR7/GR9 for air defence capabilities ... would cost an immense amount of money, take an enormous amount of time, and would result in an aircraft that is not as good at its primary role as it is today."
  • "The Type-45 [destroyer] will not fully replicate the capabilities lost with the decommissioning of the Sea Harrier."
  • "The Sea Harriers and the anti-air destroyers are not envisaged so much as substitutes, however, but as different layers of air defence for the fleet."
  • "The decision to withdraw the Sea Harrier early will provide financial savings, but this does not appear to have been the main impetus behind the decision. That has been the practical difficulty in developing the aircraft with the capability improvements it would need. If, as the MoD maintains, this a question of 'balance of investment' we [ie the committee] expect the MoD to set out clearly what additional, higher priority, investments it now expects to make with these savings. "
  • "We [the committee] are forced to conclude that whatever the result of such discussions [with allies], the UK has already decided that in another five years it will rely on others for air-defence patrols for our naval task forces." 
To make it even sweeter, 1.2 million pound had already been spent to integrate ASRAAM onto the Sea Harrier FA2, and this money was so officially burned for nothing. But as Jock Stirrup so valiantly argued, the UK was introducing the Typhoon as air defence fighter, and of course the Sea Harrier was an undesirable "duplication". Or better, a dangerous rival. Besides, the money saved cutting the SHAR had to go into intelligence gathering and electronic air warfare.
It is only a detail that it most obviously did not.

I won't enter a technical rant about shipborne SAMs systems and defence from anti-ship missiles here, since it is not the main point of this article. However, the assumption that SAMs can protect ships from missiles better than Sea Harriers in CAP with AMRAAMs at 100 miles of distance from the task force is simply ridiculous.
As good as Aster/Sea Viper is, it cannot go against the law of physics. Radar detection of sea-skimming missiles is influenced by the curvature of the surface of the earth, which greatly limits the radar horizon of detection. Even a radar as powerful and as high-mounted as the SAMPSON on the Type 45 cannot see a sea-skimming missile before it is perhaps 35 kilometers away, or less. Supersonic anti-ship missiles will leave only 45 to 30 seconds for reaction.
That's why the RN needed the "Baggers" Sea King for early warning and the Sea Harriers: with their range, much greater (obviously) than that of any SAM, the SHARs could intercept enemy missiles and planes well away from the ships, and bomb the land-based missile launchers if there were any.

The US Navy did not retire its sea-based fighters just because it built the AEGIS system and the Ticonderoga cruisers: the escort ships are there to shot down the "leakers" that eventually get past the screen of fighters in defence, not to do all the work on their own.

In January 2003, the RAF Harrier GR.7 fleet received the confirmation that the upgrade to GR.9 was going to happen, as a £150 million pound contract for part of the Harrier GR.9 upgrade programme was signed with BAE Systems Solutions & Support. The full upgrade was to cost £500 million-plus, and well overcome the amounts “saved” by retiring the Sea Harrier early. And anyway, the money was spent well before the FA2 was effectively retired. 
The upgrades that were deemed too expensive for recent SHAR FA.2 were made onto GR7 airframes: this included even the MK 107 improved, more powerful engine, which had been dreamed for the Sea Harrier by the Navy, with 40 engines having been ordered in 1999 for 150 million pounds of value. It took 112 million pounds in modifications to the airframe of the GR7 in order to install it, and 150 millions to acquire engines and support, for a total of 262 millions. 
For the SHAR, the cost had been calculated in 230.
In June 2003 the whole of 801 NAS (seven Sea Harriers and 135 personnel), embarked in HMS "Invincible" as part of her Tailored Air Group (TAG). This was the first time that Invincible had embarked all TAG elements concurrently since her emergence from refit in January 2003, so initial flying operations were conducted at a steady pace. By the end of July "Invincible" was able to support a full flying programme, integrated into a tactical scenario, which saw the Sea Harriers flying against Dutch & US F-16s and RAF Jaguars in addition to the JSATO Hawks and Falcons utilised to simulate Anti-ship missiles and missile carriers.

During September 2003 801 NAS re-embarked on "Invincible" for Exercise "Northern Light 03", a two-week multi-national exercise conducted off the west coast of Scotland. In addition to the familiar opposition of Hawks and Falcons, French Super Etendards and German Tornados proved highly capable in utilising their high speed and the Scottish terrain to conduct surprise simulated attacks against the naval elements, and the Sea Harriers had to fought these off. It was upon the successful completion of "Northern Light 03" that both "Invincible" and 801 NAS were assessed as ready to assume the duties of High-readiness Aircraft Carrier and Sea Harrier Squadron, relieving HMS "Ark Royal" and 800 NAS respectively.

HMS "Invincible"’s next test was to embark RAF Harrier GR.7’s from No 3(F) Squadron for two 3-week periods during October and November, concurrent with the embarkation of 801 NAS and 849 NAS "B" Flight with its "baggers" sea kings. Missions generally took the form of Composite Air Operations (COMAO) packages, utilising the specialist roles of both Harrier types to provide formidable attack formations.
801 NAS carried out a 10-day detachment to Decimomannu airbase, Sardinia in early 2004. All 7 jets and the full complement of squadron personnel deployed to the base in order to support a heavy flying programme. The detachment was concurrent with that of 18 US Air Force F-15 Eagles from the 493rd and 494th Fighter Squadrons. 801's primary focus was on air-to-air training with the F-15C. As the Sea Harrier and F-15 have very different handling characteristics, early missions concentrated on general familiarisation and Dissimilar Air Combat Training before moving on to the more advanced Air Defence sorties. These missions allowed Beyond Visual Range (BVR) intercepts utilising both aircrafts’ excellent radar and AMRAAM missile capability. All pilots flew a combination of Blue air (friendly) and Red air (simulating enemy) missions, to maximise the overall training value.

No 800 NAS deployed to HMS "Ark Royal" in early February 2004, joining the ship off Newcastle. The training on board was geared around qualifying 3 pilots for their Certificate of Competence, and be cleared for all Sea Harrier roles by day when embarked. Squadron pilots flew recce missions in Northumberland, fought USAF F-15Cs over the North Sea, and gave RAF Tornado GR.4 and F.3 pilots plenty of training. The last Sea Harrier landing on the "Ark" occured on this deployment.

Following a successful detachment to Swidwin airbase in Poland during 2002, 801 Naval Air Squadron set off on a 10-day visit to the Minsk-Mazowieki airbase on March 21st 2004, from where the Polish Air Force operate the Mig-29 Fulcrum. The heavy flying programme of Exercise "Polish Dancer" allowed the Poles an opportunity to familiarise themselves with NATO standard operating procedures, while the Sea Harriers had an excellent chance to pit themselves against the ultimate ‘Red Air’ adversary.
Unfortunately, two days of flying were lost due to poor weather at Minsk airbase but the exercise did allow 801s pilots to familiarise themselves with the Mig-29 fighters in Air Defence missions, before progressing to larger sorties involving the Su-22 bombers based at Swidwin. The combination of the Sea Harrier Blue Vixen radar and AMRAAM missiles was often dominant over the Polish equivalents, though the Mig-29 did excel when engaged in visual dogfights.

No 800 NAS disbanded at RNAS Yeovilton on March 31st 2004.

No 801 NAS embarked on HMS "Invincible" in the English Channel on May 5th 2004, for a deployment to the USA called "Aurora 04". The 10-day Atlantic crossing allowed all squadron personnel to settle in to the unique environment of an aircraft carrier at sea, and a considerable amount of flying was achieved.

Once within range of the US mainland, two Squadron jets and their associated engineering and support personnel detached for "Trial Marketplace" – an In Service Firing of 2 AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles in California. In the transit across the USA, supported by RAF VC-10 and Tristar Tanker aircraft, one of the Sea Harriers was refuelling in poor weather, when sudden turbulence caused the VC-10 to rise sharply, in turn forcing the refuelling hose to flex violently and rip off the Sea Harrier’s refuelling probe. The pilot managed to safely divert to Tucson, Arizona despite a significant fuel leak and associated risk of fire. Once the damage was inspected and patched up, the aircraft then flew a short distance to Naval Air Weapons Station Point Mugu, where the AMRAAM firing would be conducted, in conjunction with the RAF Tornado F3 Operational Evaluation Unit.
Over the course of the next 3 weeks, the Tornado F.3 and Sea Harrier FA.2 fired two AMRAAM each at airborne targets over the Point Mugu and China Lake test ranges. "Trial Marketplace" was a complete success, and was the last planned In Service Firing utilising the Sea Harrier airframe before its untimely demise.

During this period, the remaining squadron personnel and 6 aircraft detached to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, for affiliation training with the USAF F-15E squadrons based there. The F-15E tends to specialise in the air-to-ground mission, so the US pilots were glad of the opportunity to fly less familiar Air Defence missions with the Sea Harriers.
Mid-June saw Exercise "Blinding Storm" commence. This was a large scale, multi-national exercise involving the USS "John F Kennedy" Carrier Battle Group and 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, among many others. The exercise, which was the main focus of the Aurora 04 deployment, built upon the many lessons learnt from Gulf War II and continued joint Royal Navy and US Navy training for coalition operations. It was at this time that 801 NAS had planned their most intensive period of flying operations, but a combination of bad luck and revised engineering directives forced 5 of the 8 squadron Sea Harriers to require engine changes at short notice. This obviously limited the number and type of missions that the Squadron could undertake, and put an immense amount of pressure upon the Squadron maintainers, who worked magnificently  in the uncomfortably hot and cramped conditions of the hangar of Invincible in order to overcome the problem.
"Blinding Storm" was a chance to experience first hand the might of a US Super Carrier, often flying in close proximity to the embarked Air Wing. The Exercise pitted friendly ‘Blue’ maritime forces against enemy ‘Red’ land-based assets, in a bid to achieve total air and surface superiority prior to an amphibious assault. The Red forces comprised of US Navy F-18 Hornets, F-14 Tomcats, Learjets and other missile-simulating platforms, many of which had not been encountered before by the Squadron pilots. It was a last opportunity to encounter the unique Tomcat – which, like the Sea Harrier, was due to be withdraw from front line service. 

HMS "Invincible" made port visits at Port Canaveral, Florida, then at New York City on July 4th. The carrier, with No 801 NAS, arrived back in the UK around the middle of July 2004.
Almost all the existant Sea Harriers were present at the Yeovilton air show on 18th September 2004.

The autumn of 2004 saw 801 NAS embark twice in "Invincible" for two-week periods, enabling all involved to refresh themselves with the conduct of embarked Fixed Wing operations. The first period, Exercise "Hold Fast", was a Joint Force Harrier embarkation with 801’s FA2s operating concurrently with the GR.7s of IV(AC) Squadron in the North Sea.

Early October saw 801 embark again in "Invincible", this time in the Mediterranean, for Exercise "Destined Glory 04". Operating between Sardinia and mainland Italy, aircraft serviceability and the local climate were both excellent, allowing all pilots to gain good experience from missions flown in a complex tactical scenario. This embarkation again allowed two pilots to gain respective embarked Night Qualifications, one INQ and one FNQ.

On December 10th 2004 No 801 NAS completed its final detachment of the year, which was an extremely testing Air Defence training package. Working with Belgian Air Force F-16s and French Air Force Mirage 2000s, the two-week period was conducted whilst detached at RAF Waddington.

HMS "Invincible" left Portsmouth on January 17th 2005 to lead a Royal Navy task force on a 3-month series of exercises in the Mediterranean and Middle East, desigated MARSTRIKE 05. The carrier's tailored air group included Sea Harrier FA.2s from No 801 NAS and Harrier GR.7s from IV(AC) squadron.

In January 2005 801 NAS was detached to Florennes AB in Belgium, primarily supporting the NATO Tactical Leadership Package (TLP) being held there. The Squadron returned to the UK at the end of January.

899 NAS went on detachment to Gibraltar with 8 planes on 28th January 2005 and returned on 21st February.

801 NAS deployed to Oman aboard HMS "Invincible" for Exercise "Magic Carpet 05". The exercise, which involved up to 50 aircraft from the UK, France, US and Oman, provided a challenging scenario and varied missions to all participants, with Sea Harriers being tasked in the full spectrum of roles from February 8th to March 6th 2005. In Defensive Counter Air missions, the Sea Harriers were using their excellent Blue Vixen Radar and AMRAAM missiles to defend the Harrier GR.7s and "Invincible" from incoming simulated land-based air attacks. In Offensive Counter Air Missions, the Shars escorted the GR7s as they attacked their targets, again using their radar and missiles to detect any land-based defending aircraft. Finally, they were tasked with dropping practice bombs themselves, on the Omani Bombing Ranges, using the F95 reconnaissance camera to photograph the after effects.

Before returning to the UK the Squadron deployed to RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus to conduct live air-to-air gunnery training against a towed target. The one-week detachment allowed squadron pilots to hone their gunnery skills, using the Shar's 30mm Aden cannon.

On March 7th 2005 899 was at Kecskemét airbase in Hungary with 4 Sea Harriers. March 18th 2005 was 899 squadron's final flying day. The squadron was decommissioned on March 23rd, bringing to an end 63 years of distinguished flying operations, crowned by deployments and exercises abroad up to the very end.
In May and June 2005 801 squadron spent 6 weeks training with HMS Illustrious before sailing with into the multinational two-weeks Exercise "Neptune Warrior". In early September they already were in Poland for another multinational exercise.

In October and November 2005 801 NAS carried out two three-week embarkations on HMS "Illustrious", and after a week break they deployed again, into the Mediterranean sea. In January 2006 801 NAS were detached to RAF Lakenheath for air defence training with US Air Force F-15s. Flying two missions each day, 801 brought six aircraft and seven pilots.

The inevitable finally happened on Tuesday 28th March 2006, when five Sea Harriers carried out their final flypast at RNAS Yeovilton to mark the disbandment of 801 Naval Air Squadron and the temporary end of the fixed wing FAA.   

It is worth pointing out that, while many of the deployments listed in this piece are weeks to few-months long, they are continuous: reading the dates will show that the Sea Harriers of the Navy deployed constantly all over Europe and all the way to the US, to the Middle East, and flew in two conflicts (Iraq and Sierra Leone), even though they were not called out to Afghanistan.

In 2006, No 3 RAF Squadron converted to the Eurofighter Typhoon, allowing No 800 NAS to reform. At the same time, the size of operational Harrier squadrons reduced from 12 aircraft to nine. The Naval Air Squadrons operated but not owned the aircraft, which was totally RAF owned. In practice, the Fleet Air Arm became a source of deployable personnel, needed to keep the Harrier fleet deployable, and the planes were made available to the naval aviators only when so ruled by the RAF Strike Command. Besides, the Naval Strike Wing was “predominantly” RN manned, and commanded by a RN officer, but still had RAF elements in it. Over 300 RAF personnel was re-posted to the rest of the fleet, from Typhoon to Tornado.
As a form of balance, RN personnel was called out on ops as part of the RAF squadrons of the Joint Force, which were “predominantly” Light Blue.  

In October 2006, the 800 NAS deployed to Afghanistan, and was relieved in January 2007 by pilots from the RAF: 800 NAS soon redeployed aboard HMS Illustrious, but having no planes of its own (those were in Afghanistan) , it had nothing to actually fly. It came back to Afghanistan for another tour in October 2007, and in April 2008 a tour with planes at sea on Illustrious could finally be squeezed in as a few more airframes were made available for once. 

The squadron continued to deploy on Herrick until Joint Force Harrier was replaced by the Tornado GR4 deployment, in June 2009. In 2010, as soon as the Harriers were finally returned, the squadron finally took them to sea again, on HMS Ark Royal. When not deployed in Afghanistan, the Naval Strike Wing had been embarking without planes, and the Royal Navy has been forced to somehow remedy, at least in part, by inviting onboard HMS Illustrious US Marines Harriers, Spanish navy Harriers, and Italian Harriers too.

Tours in Afghanistan were four months, as for the other RAF squadrons of the Joint Force. Undoubtedly, the RAF did not desire the bad PR effect of having RN personnel serving for six or more months while its own crews made four month tours. The Naval Strike Wing added to those war tours operational deployments at sea on the carriers, as well, however. These were sad and not really effective, however, because of the lack of airframes already exposed.   

801 NAS was due to recommission in March 2007, under the command of Cdr K Seymour RN, to operate the Harrier GR7 and GR9 from RAF Cottesmore. However due to lack of manpower all former 801 and 800 NAS (their sister Squadron) personnel formed a "Naval Strike Wing" (NSW) within RAF Cottesmore, thus severing all remaining ties to their former home at RNAS Yeovilton.

In early December 2009, it was announced that Cottersmore base would close due to funding cut-backs, and the squadrons would move out to Wittering. The base was due to close in 2013 but became a satellite to RAF Wittering on 31 March 2011 with a civic parade and flypast.

On 31 March 2010, the force was reduced by one squadron with the disbandment of No. 20 Squadron RAF, the Harrier Operational Conversion Unit (OCU). No. 4 Squadron also disbanded and reformed as No. 4 (Reserve) Squadron at RAF Wittering, taking over as the OCU and reducing by one the number of deployable formations. At the same time, Joint Force Harrier was renamed Joint Strike Wing and all remaining Harrier GR7 aircraft were retired.

On April 2010, the Naval Strike Wing reverted to the identity of the single 800 NAS as it became clear that there was no coming back for 801.

In October 2010, the RAF was successful in convincing prime minister David Cameron that the Harrier Force and the royal navy aircraft carriers were the cut to make. Reportedly, this was a last-minute decision that reverted the plan that had been agreed upon, which would have seen the cuts hit the Tornado fleet. As consequence of the much smaller saving achieved by cutting the small Harrier fleet (roughly one billion, against over 7 for Tornado), two squadrons of Tornado also had to be closed, and in 2011 it became clear that it quite wasn’t enough, with the ministry of defence ordered to find an additional billion in savings. The Tornado fleet was saved only by the intervention in Libya, which saw the treasury “covering” (at least for now) the gap in exchange for a draconian control over all MOD spending for the next 12 months and maybe more. It is now expected that personnel from the two closed squadrons will be re-distributed to bring up from 15 to 18 the number of pilots in each of the remaining formations. Of the 130 Tornado, only around 96 will be retained after receiving 303 million pounds in upgrades. 

Now let me explain. The upgrades are welcome (if they will be confirmed, because the upgrade is already starting to lose pieces and the OSD is now 2021 and RAF sources put it at 2017 if by then a squadron [note: ONE] of F35 can be commissioned in time) as they give the Tornado an even more impressive capability. The Tornado is a wonderful machine, and is doing a fantastic job and has done so by 1991, when it first was operationally fielded. I personally love the Tornado, or the "European Miracle" as it has been correctly nicknamed. I even built one out of Lego, if you want to know it. (i'll have to post the photo sometime, it is my pride), but i can't ignore the other considerations that come with the budgetary crisis. 

A Tornado GR4 ready to go in mission over Libya from Gioia Del Colle, Italy. It carries auxiliary fuel tanks, 2 ASRAAMs for self defence, 2 Paveway IV bombs, a triple-rail with Brimstone dual mode missiles and a Litening III targeting pod, plus a 27 mm gun with 135 rounds. There is no doubt that this is an impressive and flexible capability. The concern is for the future consistency of the RAF force, for the bloody gap in carrier strike capability and for the difficulties of providing significant airpower abroad with the use of foreign air bases and air refuelling.

Economical considerations - and to a degree operational considerations - suggest that the decision of retiring the Harrier was ill-informed, and even worse, now the RAF itself thinks that it is improbable that the GR4 will live much longer than to 2017 because of the budget constraints, with the air force aware that, once the weaponry is integrated on Typhoon and the F35 starts arriving, the pressure will be high. Saving 7 billions in these years, however, might have improved the situation more than a little bit. 
Retaining the Harrier, while giving a partially inferior capability, would have generated such savings that it would have made it possible to have a bit of a smoother transit to the F35, it would have kept carrier expertise alive and would have made more money available to re-invest on JCA/F35 to try and get more of them, or at least eased the pressure on the MOD. 
Honestly, wasn't the GR9 good enough for what it had to do in Afghanistan? It did well for 5 years there. Storm Shadow has never been required in Afghanistan, and it probably never will be.
Once finally got the Brimstone operative, would it have had so much disadvantage compared to Tornado in a Libya scenario? 
The Storm Shadow could always be integrated early on Typhoon as a UOR: now it is planned for 2014 because the upgrade is a multinational programme and the other countries have no hurry, but the RAF could do on its own like it did for the Paveway/Litening III capability (added at a cost of 119 million pounds, indipendently from the other Typhoon users, in order to make feasible a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan that never happened).
Say one year for the UOR and two, or even three more, let's be pessimistic, before having a decent number of pilots trained for Storm Shadow use from the Typhoon. 
Is it really a worse compromise than 10 years without the capability of deploying aircraft indipendently from allies supplying (or not supplying) air bases? 

I honestly do not think so.  

In the end, it was about accepting a compromise, just as retiring Ark Royal is a compromise. The point is that the second compromise leaves a worse capability gap and does just a fraction of what retiring Tornado could have done in order to balance the books. And this brings to budgetary crisis at each Planning Round, with PR12 and PR13 expected to be just as tough as PR11 if not worse.

The Royal Navy in the meanwhile has been ultimately and officially screwed, with the original Joint Force Harrier plan being torn to pieces in all its parts, and with the date of entry into service of JCA soon being delayed many years past the promised 2012, and the plan for the fleet being pretty much destroyed, throwing the Armed Forces into uncertainty that will last probably up to SDR 2015.  

We will have to see what happens with the JCA fleet: the original plan for the carrier segment of the buy was for 4 squadrons on Joint Force Harrier-style: each formation with 12 planes, two predominantly RN (800 and 801 NAS) and two RAF (1 and 4), with aircrafts RAF owned, effectively a revival of the Joint Strike Wing, which already poses doubts about the effective carrier-deployability which would have been achieved, and which poses us in front of 4-months deployments done RAF-style, instead of exploiting the fact that FAA personnel can be asked to do much longer deployments without breaching their guidelines.

Hardly a cost-effective decision, but overall not too bad at least. Despite its many limits, the Joint Strike Force did lot of good, and I think that a fair 50:50 organization would satisfy pretty much everyone and provide good service. In fact, if we look at that force structure today, i think we all can agree on a "GIMME GIMME GIMME!" reaction, since there is a very high risk that such a force will remain a dream.
The risk is that a Joint organization is not re-activated, however, because of the fleet of F35s being smaller than planned. Six UK armed forces personnel are working with the F35C at the US base of Patuxent river: 3 RN and 3 RAF. Reassuring.
But we do not know yet how many F35s will be purchased, but the RAF is already trying to ensure that they all are used as Tornado replacement (in fact Bagwell expects them to be in a RAF squadron, as we have seen in earlier reports i've linked). The Navy is trying to ensure the return of 800 NAS for carrierborne ops, and in this sense is sending pilots training in the US Navy on F18s and is pushing for the timely start of deployments of british personnel on US and France aircraft carriers.

My position? If we get a single squadron of carrier-capable aircrafts, it must be a navy formation. If we get two, a joint approach is acceptable, but far, far, far away from optimal. 
If four squadrons are re-activated, make it a Joint Force again, so that no one can complain (but one of the two RAF squadrons should be the 617°, no way we can lose the Dambusters along with their Tornados!). 

But even so, there are actually good reasons to back the assumption that two squadrons fully Navy would be better. Arguably, 4 squadrons owned and used by the Navy, with Navy guidelines, would be twice as available for deployment as a similar number of RAF squadrons. Now THAT would be a cost-saving measure which also gives greater capability, once considered the way the services work (at the moment in which I write at least). 

And I do not think there are arguments as solid to campaign for a wholly RAF-owned carrierborne aviation role. So far, i've never heard actual arguments that make such an option look advantageous at all, despite being open to listening. 

SHAR and Harrier GR.9: did it make sense to upgrade the GR7? Could it be done better? 

The £500m Joint Update and Maintenance Programme (JUMP) upgraded the Harrier GR.7 fleet during normal maintenance periods, in a series of incremental capabilities. These started with software upgrades to the communications, ground proximity warning and navigation systems, followed by the integration of the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. Capability C added the RAF's Rangeless Airborne Instrumentation Debriefing System (RAIDS), Raytheon's Successor Identification Friend or Foe (SIFF) system and the Paveway guided bombs. The Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod (DJRP) was added as part of Capability D and handling trials of the MBDA Brimstone missile started on 14 February 2007.
However the Brimstone was still not cleared for the GR9 as of November 2010 and the Harrier ultimately retired before the weapon went operational.

A Sea Harrier FA2 flies a CAP with four AMRAAM missiles

In July 2007, BAE Systems completed the final of seven Harrier GR9 replacement rear fuselages for the UK MoD. The fuselage components were designed and built because needed in order to fit the more powerful Pegasus MK107 engine. 40 of these up-rated (23,400lb of thrust) Rolls-Royce engines were ordered from Rolls-Royce in December 1999 at a cost of £150 million.  By late 2004 the new engine was installed by BAE Systems into 20 GR.7s in place of their Pegasus Mk.105s, the upgraded aircraft then becoming GR.7As.  The upgrade required replacement rear-fuselages in order to accommodate the new power plant, which allows an increase in maximum take-off weight to 34,000 lbs, thus improving the Harrier's hot-and-high performance envelope and extending carrier-based operations. The cost of fitting GR9 airplanes with the new engines was 112 millions. Note that this very same upgrade was the main cost source of the Sea Harrier upgrade programme, which the MOD abandoned in 2002, deeming it too expensive. One year later, it approved it on the Harrier GR.7! 

In total, possibly around 30 Harriers were brought to GR9A standard, with the MK107 engine. Some more were GR9s, with the original MK105 engine which notoriously struggled in the hot air. Also as part of the Harrier GR.7-GR.9 upgrade plan, 10 of the 12 existing Harrier T.10 two-seat combat trainers were re-fitted with GR.9 mission systems avionics and re-designated as the T.12.  They all remained powered by the Pegasus Mk 105 and were kept as the strength of the joint training unit, 20(R) Squadron, later 4(R) Squadron in April 2010 with the disbandment of 20 and the step-down from frontline service of the 4th squadron. For the Sea Harrier plan, this would have been substituted by an upgrade to the existing 7 two-seats T8 trainers, which had cockpit instrumentation installed to prepare pilots for the SHARs.

The Sniper targeting pod replaced the less accurate TIALD 500 in 2007, under an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) for Afghanistan worth 20 milions.
By the time the Harrier GR9 upgrade had reached Capability E (including a Link 16 communications link and other improvements), the GR9 upgrade had cost 728 millions. 
By November 2008, the Harrier GR9 had swallowed a total of 860 million pounds from Opposition-supplied figures, but was finally complete (save for the Brimstone, the integration of which somehow ran aground after flight tests had already been successfully done) and arguably at its absolute best.  

Ultimately, did this all make sense?

In Afghanistan (the only theater that saw the GR9 in action) only the GR9A planes were capable to operate truly efficiently, and the effective available fleet of the Joint Force Harrier squadrons was much lower than hoped, so much so that the Naval Strike Wing provided crews but had not its own planes, leading to the UK’s sole strike carrier deploying, from 2007 to 2010, almost always without UK owned Harriers on board. The last tour of RAF on carriers was in 2007, and was a short deployment in order to obtain carrier qualification. 

The report i earlier posted made it clear that the cost of turning the Harrier GR7 in a fighter was astronomical compared to what could be achieved in terms of performances, and i have no difficulties in believing it, with all the work that would have been required to add in a radar and everything. 
But what about upgrading the land-attack capability of the SHAR, instead? The SHAR was cleared for land-attack missions, but used mostly "dumb" bombs. Not that the Harrier GR7 hadn't done the same, at least for most of its life. Why not integrating guided weaponry on the SHAR, and retire the GR7?

As we all know, the GR9 lacks a radar, and only has a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and night-vision goggles. The navigation system on the GR9 provides high-accuracy navigation and includes a ring laser gyroscope inertial navigation system coupled with a global positioning system.

The Sea Harrier FA2 cockpit was fitted with head-down displays (HDD) and a head-up display (HUD) from Smiths Industries. The cockpit was equipped with a Thales Optronics (Vinten) display recording system for the HDDs and HUD and a Martin Baker Mark 10H rocket-ejection seat. The FA2 was notoriously fitted with a BAE SYSTEMS Blue Vixen pulse Doppler all-weather radar. Blue Vixen is a multimode radar that performs ground mapping and surface target detection and tracking, in addition to long-range look-up and look-down detection and tracking of aircraft. The radar also interfaces to the AMRAAM missile system.
An F.95 surveillance camera was installed in the nose of the aircraft, with a cockpit voice recorder for surveillance mission evaluation. The Sea Harrier was fully cleared for night missions.

The Rangeless Airborne Instrumentation Debriefing System (RAIDS) used in training flights had to be added to the GR9 as part of the upgrade. The FA2 already had it and used it regularly in exercises. 

The Sea Harrier FA2 required a different rear fuselage in order to accept the MK107 engine, and this was judged not convenient. However, the Harrier GR7 needed exactly the same kind of modification in order to become GR9A. It was a matter of doing it on a plane, or on the other. It was done on as many GR7 airframes as there were Sea Harriers available to upgrade. Savings: none. Actually, if SHAR predicted cost was correct, the upgrade to the GR7 costed 32 millions more.

The Sea Harrier FA2 was cleared for AIM-120 AMRAAM, Sidewinder and ALARM, had used the Martel missile and the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile. It already had a modern aircraft/weapons interface software (probably the MIL-STD-1556, essentially just one step lower of the 1760 used on latest generation aircrafts such as Typhoon) while the GR7 required it as part of the upgrade to GR9 standard.

The FA2 had 4× under-wing pylon stations, and 1 fuselage pylon on centerline plus 2 attach points for gun pods with a total capability of 8,000 lb (3,630 kg) of payload. The GR9 has 8 underwing pylons, and it is probably its only advantage. Significant, sure, but arguably overcome from the advantages that an updated FA2 would have offered. Accepting a reduction in performances, it is likely that a third underwing pylon could have been fitted to the Sea Harrier’s wings to reduce the gap and allow for more various loads.

The GR9 never was cleared for ALARM. Like with the GR9, one of the two gun-pod pylons could have been modified to take a targeting pod. In air to air missions, the FA2 could mount two AMRAAMs in place of the guns, plus up to four sidewinders in two twin underwing pylons or two more AMRAAMs. In “Afghanistan” role, it could have carried a gun, a targeting pod, two additional fuel tanks and a  couple of Paveway IV or rocket pods.

The GR.9 had to be equipped with SNIPER pod and modern weaponry since it lacked it, just as the FA2, which mostly only used “dumb” bombs and rocket pods. Integrate the new weapons on one or the other was arguably the same thing. Actually, since the Sea Harrier used the AMRAAM, we can assume (as I did) that it had a modern software interface, and weapons integration would have been easier on FA2 than on GR9. The GR9 was fitted with the MIL-1760, but then again the FA2 could have had its own software updated. 

One of the GR9's useless gun mounts was made capable to receive the SNIPER targeting pod. The same could have been done on the SHAR.

The Harrier GR9 in Afghanistan, fitted with the Sniper advanced targeting pod, could carry two Paveway IV weapons, two CRV-7 unguided rocket pods (38 rockets total) and one Digital Joint Recce Pod (DJRP). The two CRV-7 Pods could be replaced by two additional Paveway IV weapons; or two Maverick missiles; or one CRV-7 Pod and one Maverick missile respectively. The SHAR would have possibly been unable to carry the two CVR-7 rocket pods, unless the additional fuel tanks were removed, or an additional pylon installed as part of the upgrade. The DJRP could find place under the fuselage as with the GR9, and the SHAR could have compensated with the gun for the lack of rockets. 

The Brimstone never quite made it into service, despite trials being done, flights being flown and contracts being signed. Trouble was not reported, yet the missile was not used in Afghanistan.

The FA2 had an operational gun system which was regularly used. This was the FFV Aden gunpod, which contains the weapon and 150 rounds of ammunition, is 151.57 in (3.85 m) long, and weighs 802.5 lb (364 kg) fully loaded. SHAR carried up to 2 of these. In 2005 they were still using it actively, and gunnery practice was made over Cyprus. (
The GR7/9 never received one operative gun system: they had to carry the ADEN 25, which was to be a somewhat larger weapon (length: 90 inches (2,290 mm), weight: 203 pounds (92.1 kg)) firing the new range of NATO 25 mm ammunition (as in the American GAU-12 Equalizer) at a much higher muzzle velocity of 3,445 feet per second (1,050 m/s). The lighter ammunition was also to produce a higher rate of fire, 1,650 to 1,850 rounds per minute. Unfortunately, severe development problems plagued the ADEN 25, which proved unable to meet its design weight target. It was finally cancelled in 1999. As a result, RAF Harrier GR.7 and GR.9 aircraft never received a working gun: no attempt was made to retrofit the older ADEN 30 mm pods, nor was pursued the easiest solution of not-reinventing hot water and just buy and integrate the US Equalizer gun, which is operative on US, Spanish and Italian Harriers, despite the well known fact that the lack of gun was always a cause of complaints, included the famous “utterly useless” remark made on the Harrier GR9 support in Afghanistan because of the impossibility of running strafing runs. The Equalizer would have had the disadvantage of requiring both pylons, (one holds the gun, the other the ammo box), so the SNIPER pod would have had to be fitted somewhere else. The ADEN 30 gunpod would have been even more handy, using a single pylon. 

The other consideration which supported going GR9 and not SHAR was that more GR7 airframes were available, but despite the conversion being made on more airframes (around 60), the Harrier force still managed to deploy only two 9-strong frontline squadrons (1st and 4th RAF) plus a Naval squadron of sole crews and a OCU with twin-seat planes. The 30 remaining GR7 were soon enough retired, in fact, for a sole GR9/GR9A fleet.
The 30 Sea Harriers FA2 had kept flying, on a very demanding timeframe of continuous exercises and at-sea deployments, two active squadrons of 7 planes each plus their own land-based OCU, the 899 NAS, which also deployed SHARS at times. Not a great difference.
Why not upgrade the 30 FA2 by integrating SNIPER, Paveway IV and Brimstone (and ASRAAM?) on airframes fitted with a new rear section and a new MK107 engine, plus upgrading the twin-engine trainers T.8 instead of the T.10?
That way, 899 NAS would have been able to take stably on frontline role, giving 3 full-time squadrons of around 7 planes each plus T.12-equipped OCU. 
This while retaining the radar, the AMRAAMs, the ALARM capability, the gun, and rolling into service two “fleets into the fleet” (FA3(?) and T.12) against three (GR9, GR9A and T.12). Cost would have been the same of the GR9 JUMP upgrade, if not lower, and savings would have been higher, with Cottesmore and Wittering closing and a smaller but truly multimission fleet being left in service.  

Then why not doing it…? In terms of savings, it would have cost less, it would have arguably given a more complete aircraft, and would have allowed the retirement of the GR7 and the closure of Wittering and Cottersmore, biting significantly into the MOD overspend.

Being evil, one of the first reasons that spring to mind not to take this path is that the Sea Harrier, once transformed in a fully multi-function asset, would have been a far worse rival to contend with for the RAF. 

But this probably sounds too pro-FAA, doesn’t it?

So let’s say we still go GR9 despite the advantages that Sea Harrier seems to offer. Ultimately, the MIL-STD-1760 software had to be added to the Harrier as main, starting part of the JUMP programme. Interestingly, there were two studies as part of the GR9 Integrated Weapon Programme upgrade: the first, BRCP 779, explored the forward centre of gravity (CG) limits of the aircraft in order to reduce the existing CG management workload on the operator. The second study, BRCP 821, aimed to increase the all-up mass of the aircraft to 34,000 lb, and perhaps beyond, to cover heavyweight roles such as Storm Shadow. The studies date back to 2002 and 2003.
Once the study was over, the plan was approved: Harrier GR9 was to carry Storm Shadow, Brimstone and Maverick. The evidence is in the Parliamentary report "Delivering Front Line Capability to the RAF", dated 2006, at upgrade already undergoing. (indeed, the upgrade was contracted for in 2003, physically began in 2004 and had to be finished by 2007). Everyone with enough patience to do so, can scroll down to Page 15 of the report and read it here
The "mystery" begins later, with the Storm Shadow vanishing altogether and the Brimstone upgrade somehow never brought to conclusion despite being contracted for and partially done. Add to this factor the awareness that the RAF flew the RAPTOR pod on a Predator B already back in 2005 and that it was demonstrated that it was possible to do so at a centerline underfuselage pylon, losing no weapon carriage capability at all and providing a complete RECCE/Strike platform, cheaper to run than anything else the RAF had (and has) and arguably more effective.    

These trials are little known, while everyone knows that the RAPTOR means Reconnaissance Airborne Pod TORnado. The RAPTOR is actually a Goodrich Corporation DB-110 reconnaissance sensor, and it is flown by Poland’s F16, Pakistan’s F16s, Greece's F16s, Reaper drones (underwing, but as we said it can be done in a proper centerline position) and even by Japanese P3 Orion planes! 

RAF and US collaborated in order to trial the use of the RAPTOR (better known as DB-110 recce system) on Predator and Predator B (better known as Reaper). The DB-110 flies on Predators by 2005, and here it can be seen, decorated with a shark-mouth, ready for a mission. An even more effective centerline, under-fuselage mount has also been validated. By 2006, the RAF pretty killed this effort.

The RAPTOR is not Tornado-limited, to say the very least. But the RAF does not advertise this, and we have now piled up enough elements to make it hard not to start thinking “everything that could put the Tornado at risk was stopped”. A variant of the RAPTOR pod has been mounted even under the fuselage of a Beechcraft King Air 350 in order to meet US Army requirements! 

Brimstone and Storm Shadow for GR9: stopped. Integrating Storm would have admittedly required more funding, while Brimstone even flew test flights, but somehow ran aground and never quite was pushed into service. However, Storm Shadow integration on the Harrier GR9 would have been a cheaper option for retaining the stand-off attack capability than maintaining the whole Tornado fleet in order to do so.

Expansion of the users-base of the RAPTOR pod: stopped. This had (and has) the potential of generating better service at a much lower cost, but with the insistence with which the RAPTOR role of the Tornado is used to justify its presence I have no doubts that integration work of the pod on other platforms won’t come around for quite some more years, despite the fact that, economically, such a move would repay itself in no time. 

Gun for the GR9: never fixed. The 40 millions spent on UORs for Tornado in Afghanistan could have financed this easily. 

Plan for Typhoon deployment in Afghanistan: vanished from the radars. There's been a time in which the RAF made clear that they planned to have Typhoon in Afghanistan by 2011. But from quite some time, this option has vanished. And the temptation to assume that it is not just because of the insufficient number of weapons cleared or pilots trained is so high that i'm tempted to say that, if by 2015 the UK will still be in Afghanistan, Typhoon will still not have deployed there. It is one of the very few programmes by now "crystallized" and "safe", so there will be no hurry to put Tornado at risk by retiring it from Afghanistan.
I will correct myself later if i'm proven wrong, but this is my gut feeling.

The RAPTOR factor anyway is particularly significant, because using the RECCE pod on the Reapers would: 

1)      Cost less
2)      Keep more Tornados dedicated to CAS missions only
3)      Keep the recce sensor in the air for much longer time

More juicy read about the Joint Force Harrier and Tornado struggle can be found here
Reading the quite hot exchange of messages between minister Kevan Jones and Conservative MP Mark Lancaster, a lot of juicy details come out, included the direct admission that Tornado GR4 is a more expensive airframe to deploy and support in Afghanistan, and that the end of the Joint Force Harrier enduring commitment was specifically called by the RAF:  

“I and other Ministers have to ensure that we provide what commanders on the ground ask for. It is wrong to suggest that Tornado is a poorer or cheaper option that will not provide the capability that is needed, or that it is somehow a cost-saving measure. It is not; I think that Harrier costs £30 million a year and Tornado will cost £31 million [to deploy in Stan].”

“It is more expensive.”

“It is, but that shows the Government's commitment to providing our armed forces with the equipment that they need. The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the money that has been spent on Harrier, but again, Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. They can hardly criticise the Government for not supporting our armed forces given that, in this case and others, urgent operational requirements have brought from Treasury reserves—not from the MOD budget—the capabilities that our commanders on the ground have asked for. He cannot say that Harrier is not needed, and it would be wrong of Ministers or of him to second-guess what commanders on the ground want.”

Admirable that there is such a commitment to give the commanders on the ground what they ask for. One has to wonder, though, why the calls from the Army for a protected vehicle to replace Land Rovers has gone ignored for so long, through two wars, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and why the call for a small deployment of Challenger II MBTs to Afghanistan has been turned down so many times.
Army commanders did not know what they needed and the RAF did…?

It would be fantastic to be able to read the documents that the MP and minister quoted in their exchange, in particular in order to know the exact figures of aborted missions and the risk log about Tornado. Unfortunately, this is not possible (was that document restricted?). However, hon. Lancaster makes some good and incisive points all along the debate.

Minister Kevan Jones obviously ends up praising the Tornado for being able of employing RAPTOR and for the 27 mm gun, ignoring that both capabilities could have been provided to the troops at an arguably lower cost, and he refuses to “being drawn into a technical debate” when asked to list what Harriers had over Tornado. Mark Lancaster ultimately rises the legitimate suspect

“It is pretty clear that, if the Harrier stays in Afghanistan, it will not be subjected to the programme review. If, however, the Tornado is pulled out of Iraq—it soon will be, hopefully—what exactly is it going to do? It will not be on operations, and it will not have an operational role. [differently from Harrier which would have covered the Carrier Strike role] I am assured that the RAF is concerned that, all of a sudden, the Tornado fleet is beginning to look exposed. It believes that, by ensuring that it has a role in Afghanistan, we can give the Tornado fleet and its future a degree of protection.”  

Hard not to agree with the mp’s point, especially considering how things evolve. I must also honestly note that it is somewhat ironical that the final end of the Harrier force came into being exactly under a conservative government, but it is known that many – included Liam Fox – had expressed their opposition and we had the admission that it was the final word of Cameron that changed things.

The “Tornado Mafia” so often denounced thus exists…? Well, it starts getting hard to say it doesn’t. Think about SDSR2010, but with Harrier GR9 fitted with Brimstone and Storm Shadow and RAPTOR flying on Reapers. The feeling is that HMS Ark Royal would still be around, because all what would have been left in favor of Tornado is its more impressive kinetic performances, which no one can deny, but that would have been too little to balance its higher cost, its need for more crewing and its incapacity to go on carriers. 
In fact, the “it is needed in Afghanistan” argument is what we were fed with in order to accept the SDSR decision. 

In conclusion 

The Fleet Air Arm is a service that, by its nature, is at war every day, even in peacetime. This is recognized even by the astonishingly identical figures of Separated Service and Tour deployment guidelines. The Fleet Air Arm is required to do a lot, with little men and little airframes.
And it does it well.
An example I think is worth making is that of the 815° Squadron NAS flying Lynx helicopters. Navy News of this month reports some very impressive figure of its service. In the past 12 monhts, 815° NAS has provided: 

-          13 Deployed Ship Flights
-          Its helicopters took part in 22 UK exercises, one NATO exercise and 20 operational sea training periods
-          The Lynx were airborne for 6998 hours, or, if you will, 41 weeks.
-          3600 sorties flown, 700 of which operational. That means nearly 10 sorties per day.    
-          Lead to four drug busts (for more than 10 million pounds)
-          Searched for pirates in a length of sea bigger than the whole UK coastline
-          Intercepted 18 pirate action groups
-          Destroyed 7 pirate boats
-          Fired over 43.000 rounds of M3M machine gun

All this with an established force of 74 officers, 320 ratings, 21 Lynx MK8 and 3 Lynx MK3 (which during these 12 months made their last flight from HMS Ocean and bowed out after 40 years worth of sterling service) and while having two helicopters constantly ready to take-off for anti-terrorism duty in the UK and in UK waters, plus another Lynx at the ready to be assigned to the Fleet Ready Escort, the one warship which is, at any one time, kept in very high readiness in order to be sent out answering to any crisis requiring it.  
This is a most impressive performance, which compares more than favorably to the scores of any other UK squadron.

Notable is also the now 3 and a half year long continuous deployment of Commando Helicopter Force to Afghanistan, with 845 and 846 NAS providing continuous deployment of Sea King HC4s, with 847 NAS flying Lynx AH9 and 854 flying “baggers.
This while other crews and aircrafts of the very same squadrons deploy to Norway to keep alive arctic fighting capability and others deploy at sea to keep amphibious assault capabilities alive with exercises such as Cougar 2011 in the Mediterranean sea. 

In comparison, the RAF takes 3 squadrons of personnel and machines in order to sustain the enduring deployment of 8 Chinooks to Afghanistan.   

My idea is that the Uk needs more Fleet Air Arm, not less. Very possibly, the UK needs the RAF to become more like the FAA, not the other way around.

Sources and references:  

Many thanks to Phoenix Think Tank blog.
I’ve taken from their article “Flying from our new Carriers” the bits about the roles of FAA pilots outside the flying. My knowledge of how ship crews work has greatly been increased thanks to their excellent data.

Main sources for the Guidelines and for figures about Joint Force Harrier service in Afghanistan have been:

For the record of Sea Harrier deployments from 2000 to their end, you can read here.

For the 815° NAS little known but vital daily work for the nation, my thanks to NavyNews, the official navy publication. You can find the article “The Lynx effect” on the number of April 2011, available online at

The graphics are instead born out of my work and simple, old Paint and basic math.