Britain has hit an early obstacle in its bid to sell its fleet of Harrier jump jets after India, the most promising potential buyer, described the aircraft as “iffy” and obsolete.
Air Chief Marshall PV Naik, the head of the Indian Air Force, said on Tuesday he would be looking to acquire modern aircraft of fourth-generation capabilities or better. “The Harrier doesn’t fit into that category,” the Air Chief Marshall said.
His dismissive remarks over the “iffy” Harrier came soon after Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, the chief of the UK air staff, acknowledged the possibility of a sale while paying a visit to India to boost military co-operation and exports.
India is one of the largest arms bazaars in the world and is seeking to modernise its aging, largely Russian-supplied airforce, to face threats from Pakistan and China.
The distinct lack of interest shown in the Harrier, which was decommissioned in the defence review primarily on grounds of cost, will be a blow to ministers who are seeking to generate some much-needed revenue from the disposal.
Air Chief Mashall Naik’s words will particularly sting because the Ministry of Defence has spent more than £500m upgrading the Harrier avionics over the last five years and the jets could potentially remain in service until the mid 2020s.
Peter Luff, defence procurement minister, told the Financial Times this week that he was hopeful of finding a buyer for the Harrier, the pride of the Falklands war, in order to spare them from an untimely demise in a scrap yard or museum.
“There are a number of possibilities....we are looking at the options quite carefully at the moment. There are overseas markets, particularly for the Harrier,” he said.
India, along with the US, is the most likely purchaser, primarily because it bought about 30 Sea Harriers, an earlier variant, in the 1980s. Some are still used to fly off its UK-made aircraft carrier the INS Viraat, which once saw battle as HMS Hermes, the Royal Navy flagship during the Falklands conflict.
Defence collaboration was a key priority for David Cameron early this year as he led a 90-strong delegation of chief executives and cabinet ministers to India seeking to boost to trade.
An alternative is for the US to buy the Harriers to supplement its existing fleet used by the Marine Corps. Versions of the Harrier are also used by Spain and Italy.
The Harrier is one of several items of military hardware axed in the defence review that Britain is seeking to sell. Ministers seeking buyers for Nimrod spy planes, a programme cancelled shortly before the aircraft were coming into service, dozens of Typhoon fighter jets and warships including frigates and aircraft carriers.