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 budget, 8 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.