Sixteen Harrier GR.7/9 V/STOL (vertical and/or short take-off and landing) jets flew over the UK Midlands Wednesday to mark the type’s retirement from British military service. The 70-strong Harrier force fell victim to the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has since rushed to ground them in a vain attempt to stem criticism of the decision. Three former First Sea Lords (heads of the Royal Navy) called for their retention, and that of HMS Ark Royal, the aircraft carrier that has also been axed. The UK will now be without carriers until 2020, when one of two Queen Elizabeth II-class ships will enter service, with Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighters embarked.
AIN understands that in the meantime, the MoD hopes to preserve carrier-flying expertise by sending some pilots on exchange tours with U.S. Navy F/A-18 squadrons. But there have been calls for the same goal to be achieved by retaining some Harriers in a reserve squadron. The SDSR deferred a decision on making greater use of Reserves in the British military mix.