PA: "Decision To Axe Harriers Is 'Bonkers', Says Lord West"

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  1. Press Association:

    The Government's decision to axe the UK's fleet of Harrier jump jets is "bonkers", a former head of the Royal Navy has said.

    Labour's Lord West of Spithead, security minister in the previous government, was supported by the Liberal Democrats' former defence spokesman Lord Lee of Trafford, who described the proposals as "madness".

    But the Government's position, unveiled last week in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), was supported by former chief of the defence staff and head of the RAF Lord Craig of Radley.

    Lord West, first sea lord from 2002 to 2006, said at question time in the House of Lords: "The decision to get rid of the Harriers and not the Tornados is, I have to say, bizarre and wrong. It is the most bonkers decision that I have come across in my 45 years in the military and I assure you I have been privy to some pretty bonkers decisions in that time.

    "In terms of cost if we remove the Tornado force we are looking at £7.5 billion by 2018. With the Harriers we are looking at less than £1 billion. So in cost terms that does not make sense. We are told that the Harriers cannot do the job in Afghanistan. That is just not true."

    He said that he had spoken to a "lot of army officers" over the weekend who said they "much value" the "particular capabilities" of the Harriers.

    Defence minister Lord Astor of Hever had told peers that scrapping the Harrier fleet would save £900 million by 2018.

    But Lord Lee said: "To ditch the Harrier fleet and all the expertise that has been built up over the years for a saving of a mere £100 million a year and denude aircraft carriers of their aircraft is surely madness and makes us look absurd in the eyes of the rest of the world. Maybe we should consider getting rid of our flight decks and replacing them with sun decks."

    Lord Craig of Radley, head of the armed forces from 1988 to 1991, said: "No one would wish to see them go, but under the circumstances where a decision has to be made between Tornado and Harrier and more Tornado, Tornado surely produces the better result particularly bearing in mind how many aircraft are needed to be supportive in Afghanistan."

    Lord Astor told peers: "We have had to make some very difficult decisions because of the legacy we inherited - a black hole in the defence budget of £28 billion. The last year of the Labour government saw an overspend in defence increase by £3.3 billion. This is the largest ever recorded increase."

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