Off-topic but apposite to the retention of the Harrier, the opening piece by Mark Urban on Newsnight tonight was centred on a letter received from a ‘serviceman’ based at RAF Akrotiri with a Tornado squadron.
He was complaining about lack of spares, robbing other aircraft to keep the aircraft serviceable, and bizarrely supper rations on the night shift. There was a tale of an unnamed air vice marshal, who was so disgusted at the ‘cheese sandwich’ being offered by the caterers (contract), he ripped open some of the rations being loaded into a Hercules to be dropped on Iraq, and gave them to the night shift. There was a discussion about the state afterward of the Tornado fleet and the lack of serviceability between Sean Bell and a Labour MP, but no government spokesman. Sean is a retired RAF commander on Harriers. Nothing conclusive was reached but a lot of tutting went on. Harriers were mentioned briefly, but not bringing them back which would now be impossible. I hate to say it to the coalition but I told you so, should have kept the Harrier force going, maybe we could even have put them on the new carriers, instead of the US Marine Harriers which may deploy from them. A real kick in the teeth.
But, going back to the complaint from inside Akrotiri, twas ever thus. Forty years ago on the Harrier force we struggled with getting spares and having to spend hours robbing and replacing from other aircraft. And even then supper was nothing to shout about. The only plus was that then we had 150,000 personnel in the RAF, now there’s barely 35,000, with more commitments, less budget, less aircraft and more theatres than ever before. I’ve said before, and again ‘the first responsibility of any government is the protection of its shores’. Looks like they’ve failed on this one then.