Monday, November 1, 2010

UK seeks buyers for axed Harriers

Britain is to hang a “for sale” sign on its decommissioned fleet of Harrier jump-jets as ministers attempt to find buyers for aircraft they can no longer afford to fly.

India and the US are the two most promising markets for more than 50 of the most up-to-date Harriers, which will otherwise be consigned to the scrap-yard or museum.

Peter Luff, defence procurement minister, told the Financial Times that some of the kit axed in the defence review – including the Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft – might still find a home abroad.

“I don’t want to speculate about the market,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel as if they are being bounced. But we are looking at the options quite carefully at the moment. There are overseas markets, particularly for the Harrier.”

Such a sale, even at knock-down prices, would be a boon for the Ministry of Defence as it attempts to meet a steep target for annual savings this year.

However, defence officials and industry figures acknowledge that there are limited prospects of a quick sale, given the alternatives on the market and the handful of nations with experience of flying Harriers.

The likelihood of finding an outlet for the Nimrod MRA4 spy aircraft is even slimmer, not least because the production is still incomplete, over budget and running nine years late.

Some surveillance technology may also be too sensitive to export.

Cancelling the Harrier, which played a role in the recapture of the Falklands in 1982, emerged as a defining decision of the defence review, leaving Britain with no planes to fly off its aircraft carriers for a decade.

The MoD had invested heavily in upgrading the avionics of the jets, which could still be in service in the mid-2020s.

However, given the choice of saving one fast jet type, ministers chose to retain the more capable land-based Tornado.

India is the most likely purchaser of the Harrier. 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.

The US could buy the Harriers to supplement its fleet used by the Marine Corps.

Versions of the Harrier are used by Spain and Italy

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