Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Afghanistan. Why the RAF are calling in the Tornado GR4's and replacing the Harriers .... or maybe not
The UK public are vaguely aware that the RAF have a role in Afghanistan and prefer probably not to think of the aerial bombing of civilians, the deaths of women and children or even of Taliban being blown to bits.
It has however been an exciting week for Afghanistan bombing anoraks in (and outside) the House of Commons.
17 Nov 2008 : Column 134W of Hansard ... Has a fascinating series of written answers to questions to the Secretary of State for Defence Mr Huttton by Messrs Ellwood, Swire, Ancram, and the terriet like Mark Lancaster with his subsequent questioning about the decision to deploy 8 Tornado GR4's to replace 8 Harriers.
This reveals that 24 aircrew and 122 ground staff will be required and that related costs given by bluff, non nonsense, no sense Bob Ainsworth claimed
..." The financial costs for continuing to sustain eight Harrier GR9 on
Operation Herrick are estimated to be £30 million p.a. This cost includes, for
example, fuel, forward and depth maintenance, associated equipment support and
is based on current levels of activity. The costs associated with sustaining
eight Tornado GR4 on Operation Herrick (not yet deployed) are estimated to be
£31 million p.a. on an equivalent basis. The cost of deploying Tornado GR4 to
Operation Herrick is up to £40 million."
19 Nov 2008 : Column 89WH of Hansard ...Provides the details of the debate initiated by Mark Lancaster (Con. Milton Keynes TD) on RAF Operations ..."I intend to focus on the Harrier force in this debate—I have given the Minister advance warning that I intend to focus solely on the Joint Force Harrier—and it has been doing a sterling job, rightly earning a reputation as being very much the soldier’s friend in Afghanistan."
He first asked ..."why are we due to withdraw the Joint Force Harrier from Afghanistan from next year?" In answer to a parliamentary question ( 2 days earlier) , Minister for the Armed Forces said ...
“Mindful of the strain that this extended deployment has put upon the crews,Mark Lancaster says "I now intend to go into some detail about those concerns, which are based on capability, finance, the impact on personnel,..." and those anxious for more and better particulars are advised to read hansard . Sufficient to report here...
their families and the wider role of Joint Force Harrier we have decided to
withdraw the Harriers from Afghanistan and replace them with an equivalent force
of Tornado GR4s.”—[Official Report, 17 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 136W.]
" ....from a weapons point of view — of the six weapons systems that are carried on the Harrier, four cannot currently be carried on a Tornado......of the eight specialist items on a Harrier for close air support, four will not be available for the Tornado."
The he added, quoting from information not supplied by the MOD .. but not questioned by the Minister.
"I will not go into the details of ground abort rates, but suffice to say that at the moment the Harrier is operating at a 0.34 per cent. ground abort rate. That means that only about four in every 1,000 times that we call on a Harrier to go on a mission in Afghanistan it cannot take off, because of some technical problem. By comparison, the Tornado GR4 is operating at a ground abort rate of 11.6 per cent. That means that more than one in 10 times that a Tornado is scrambled on operations, it simply fails to get off the ground. If that is the case, why are we replacing eight Harriers with eight Tornadoes? Why are we accepting that one in 10 times a Tornado will not get off the ground and therefore one in 10 times it will not get to serve our soldiers on the ground on the front line? Is the Minister really happy to take that risk? In fact, the ground abort rate for Tornadoes peaked last month at 12.7 per cent., so this problem is getting worse, not better."
"We have already spent £728 million on upgrading the Harrier to capability E, which was effectively to improve its performance specifically for roles in Afghanistan. We have also spent £112 million on the new Mk 107 engine, which is specifically designed to operate in hot climates."
He then goes on to argue , with some justification that with defence cuts looming and Tornado's exiting Iraq that the Tornado is looking vulnerable to cuts so a role is being discovered for it in Afghanistan.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Kevan Jones (Labour N Durham website 10th September ..."today highlighted the ongoing litter problems caused by the fast food chain McDonalds".) in the few minutes remaining of the debate paying tribute to Colour Sergeant Krishnabahadur Dura, paying tribute to the RAF, the Ghurkas, find time to point out ... "In some ways the Tornado brings capabilities that the Harrier does not, such as the 27 mm cannon and the new RAPTOR imaging system—the reconnaissance airborne pod Tornado—which has been used very effectively in Iraq and, I am told, will be in Afghanistan as well."
Mr Lancaster was anxious that Mr Jones also dwelt on the things that the Tornado could not do that the Harrier could not do . So the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence whinged that ..."if there are concerns among serving personnel, they cannot be articulated through the chain of command." Which they evidently had but with no or little effect.
In the dying minute Mr Lancaster asked ..."Will he also write to me with answers to the questions that he has not answered?"