In an update on the EMALS electro-magnetic catapult (things appear to be going well, which is good news for both the USN and the RN), Lewis Page finds the British defence minister still in full denial mode over the decision to scrap the navy’s last carrier and take the Harrier out of service:
The Royal Navy has been doing its best to overcome its current lack of carriers and Harriers in the Libyan campaign, instead inviting a group of the Army’s Apache attack choppers aboard the assault ship HMS Ocean. The Apaches have been doing useful work in the skies above Libya, which they can reach just minutes after taking off (as opposed to the hours it takes for land-based RAF jets to fly in from Italy or — as they are still routinely doing — all the way from the UK). Long haul operations by the RAF are putting its air-to-air tanker fleet under serious strain, and it will not have escaped carrier fans that the just commencing PFI tanker deal is set to cost much more than the Prince of Wales and sister ship Queen Elizabeth combined.
Defence minister Liam Fox made a bizarre statement on the question to reporters yesterday, claiming:
“Harrier could not have carried the weapons we have used to such great effect. They are too heavy. Harriers would have been no help to us at all. The critics have been silenced.”
The weapons used by the RAF so far have mainly been Paveway smartbombs and lightweight Brimstone anti-armour missiles, with a few dubious Storm Shadow air-launched cruise jobs mixed in (these latter missions are normally flown all the way from the UK).
The Harrier was the first British aircraft to be cleared for the latest Paveway IVs — the main weapon now in use by British planes over Libya — ahead of the Tornado and the Typhoon, as the RAF will tell you. It could also carry Brimstone. The Harrier GR9 could also carry Storm Shadow, supposing you actually wanted to.