As Nimrod is cancelled – where does this leave the British aircraft industry?


The Nimrod MR4A has been cancelled in the Defence Review (photo courtesy of Royal Navy © Crown Copyright/MOD 2007)

As the government cuts its losses on Nimrod – Where does this leave Britain’s military aero-industry? The decision comes as the entire Harrier fleet is retired – delivering a symbolic shift away from British aircraft.

Harrier will be replaced by the Joint-Strike Fighter, but not for another ten years! BAe is a junior partner in the STOVL (Short Take-off and Vertical Landing) aircraft – but it is a Lockheed Martin and will be built in the US.

Despite the Defence Review – the writing has been on the wall for the Nimrod MR4A ever since the RAF bought Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS (Airbourne Warning and Control System) in the 90s. Even then it was running late and over budget. Despite being based on the 1950s Comet 4 airliner it would have kept high-tech early warning radar development within these shores – rather than relying on the expensive American alternative ($270m in 1987).

But the cost of the AWACS now looks better value compared to Nimrod. Last year with escalating costs the order was cut from 21 to 9 – quadrupling the cost per aircraft to £400m. Its cancellation was no surprise – over budget8 years late and still not ready!

Harrier and Nimrod are the last British designed and engineered military front-line aircraft – and their passing is symbolic of the decline of the British aircraft industry. Not of today – but the last forty years when high costs have seen companies forced into joint-ventures.

Rolls-Royce remain an important player in developing engines for today’s aircraft, and BAe are a partner in such aircraft as Eurofighter, the Joint-Strike Fighter and the Airbus A400M. But the day of the British designed and engineered warplane from Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster to Lightning, Harrier and Nimrod is well and truly over.

Alan Riddoch

“I have been an automotive engineer for over ten years, and have both studied and worked in the UK, France and Germany.

I graduated in Mechanical Engineering before taking a Masters in Automobile Engineering and elected Chartered Engineer, European Engineer & Vice-Chairman of my local IMechE (automotive branch).

I have worked with many leading OEMs and first tier suppliers and in local journalism as both editor and journalist. I currently work in the automotive industry and write freelance.”


  1. […] The new generation of nuclear submarines are postponed until at least 2028 – that’s four years after the Vanguard-class are due to be scrapped. The cuts also mean finally cancelling Nimrod. No surprise – but where does this leave the British aircraft industry? […]

  2. Giles Hartill says:

    I think the decision to get rid of old aircraft is a good one, as long as they’re replaced by suitable and necessary hardware in a timely manner. Whether this is British led is not necessarily important as most large defence companies are multi-national enterprises anyway. The main point is that the hardware should be fit for purpose and affordable.

    1. Alan Riddoch says:

      As aircraft become obsolete it is clear they should be replaced – and with the amount of complexity and associated cost it is also clear that there will be fewer manufacturers and more international joint-ventures. And it’s true that Britain continues to play an important role in European and American projects – but I just think the recent review was a symbolic shift in that the last of the true British aircraft were cancelled or withdrawn from service – heralding the end of 100 years of history and some great achievements.