Harriers Depart Ark Royal for Last Time

Harrier GR9 jets have taken off from HMS Ark Royal for the very last time, before both Joint Force Harrier and the Royal Navy’s flagship are decommissioned next month.

The iconic jets launched from the deck of Ark Royal at 9am on 24 November,  approximately 40 nautical miles (74km) off the coast of Newcastle.

The aircraft were from Joint Force Harrier, based at RAF Cottesmore, the home of the Harriers belonging to 1 (Fighter) Squadron RAF and 800 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). The GR9 aircraft’s tails were repainted and emblazoned with the emblems of the squadrons they represented

Deliberately keen to highlight the very joint nature of Joint Force Harrier the last jet to recover (land) on HMS Ark Royal was an 800 NAS jet piloted by a Royal Air Force officer, while the last jet to launch was a 1 (Fighter) Squadron RAF jet piloted by a Royal Naval officer.

Departing the ship in one wave of four aircraft, the launch was led by Captain Mike Carty, Royal Marines, followed by Lieutenant Matt Fooks-Bale, Royal Navy, and Flight Lieutenant Em Rickards before Lieutenant Commander James Blackmore’s historic final launch.

Lt Cdr Blackmore, aged 35, the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier from the decks of HMS Ark Royal, said: “This is a truly memorable day. We accept the decision to decommission both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal; however, of course the final launch will be emotional.

“I have flown more than 90 sorties off the ship and combat sorties in Afghanistan, and the aircraft’s capability still astounds me,” he said. “Landing an aircraft on a runway which is not in the same location as where you launched from gives exceptional flexibility.

“I remember witnessing a Harrier in the hover when I was just eight years old; since then I had wanted to do nothing else. I have flown Harriers for over 10 years; the training is complex and challenging but the added challenge and excitement of hovering a Harrier off the port side of HMS Ark Royal before landing vertically is an experience I will miss immensely.

“I feel honoured and proud to be the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier jet from HMS Ark Royal,” he said.

After the launch, the four aircraft conducted a two-ship flypast, each squadron flying low past the port side of the ship before conducting a final fighter exercise controlled by 849 NAS’ Sea King Mk7 helicopter, prior to returning to RAF Cottesmore.

Following the decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal, HMS Illustrious, presently in refit in Rosyth, will regenerate her helicopter capability alongside HMS Ocean.

Reflecting on the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal, Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer, said: “Although we now look back on the significant achievements of the Harrier with immense pride and a tinge of sadness at our loss, we can now look forward to an exciting new chapter of naval aviation as we continue the training for and procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

“HMS Queen Elizabeth, together with her helicopters and the Joint Strike Fighter, will be a very powerful strategic asset able to project serious power anywhere in the world, delivering 21st century carrier strike capability,” he said.

New Leak Exposes MoD Fury at Defence Cutbacks

Defence Secretary Liam Fox (left) and Jock Stirrup (right), outgoing head of the armed forces, listen as Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses military staff at at The Permanent Joint Headquarters. Photo: GETTY

The Coalition Government’s defence review has demoralised the Armed Forces, strained relations with allies and ignored significant military advice, according to a leaked Ministry of Defence document.

The review was rushed and its handling “badly damaged the confidence and morale of our personnel,” the paper says.

The document, seen by The Daily Telegraph, was prepared by a board of military officers and senior officials working for Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, for a secret Whitehall assessment of the process.

The Prime Minister will face questions about the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) from senior MPs On Thursday.

SDSR: Lessons Identified, is dated 3 November and marked “Restricted”. It describes a process carried out too quickly to take proper account of advice, to consult allies or to win the support of the Forces.

It also criticises the way Mr Cameron and his National Security Council, a panel of senior ministers, drove the review forward.

The disclosure of the report is the second major leak from the MoD over the defence review and may fuel tensions between the Prime Minister and Dr Fox, who is believed to have argued that the five-month timetable was too short.

Source: The Telegraph

Latest Manning Figures Released

The UK’s Armed Forces are currently at 99.7% of their full time Trained Strength requirement, according to figures released today by the MoD, up from the previous year’s 97.9%.

As at 1 October 2010, the full time Trained Strength of the UK Armed Forces was approximately 178,470 against a target of 179,000. This comprises 174,080 UK Regular Forces, 690 Full Time Reserve Service personnel and 3,700 Gurkhas.

Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Andrew Robathan welcomed the fact that Britain’s Armed Forces were now almost fully manned for the first time in some years, but accepted that some changes are on the way.

“The Strategic Defence and Security Review made clear that there would need to be changes in the structure of Armed Forces Personnel,” he said. “At the moment, we are determining how these changes will impact on our Armed Forces to ensure that the Army, Navy and Air Force are best equipped to face current and future challenges.

“What we do know is that our Armed Forces are, and will remain, some of the best in the world and we will continue to recruit those who want to be the best,” he added.

Since 1 October 2009, the proportion of females in the UK Regular Forces has remained static at 12.1%t for officers and risen from 9% to 9.1% for other ranks. The proportion of UK Regular Forces from ethnic minority backgrounds has remained static at 6.6%.

More: www.mod.uk

Admirals Urge Rethink on Harrier and Ark Royal Cuts

A group of former Royal Navy admirals has called for the decision to scrap the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the fleet of Harrier jets to be reversed.

In a letter to the Times the group says defence cuts will leave the “newly valuable” Falkland Islands open to attack and calls the plan to axe the Harrier fleet “financially perverse”.

But ministers insist the UK will still be able to defend the Falklands.

Source: BBC News