Force - Harrier!
One of the United Kingdom's most potent aerial strike forces was demonstrated at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire on 31 March 2000, when the Royal Air Force's GR7 Harriers combined with Royal Navy FA2 Harriers to form 'Joint Force Harrier'.
The formation of the new unit marked a historic day that also saw a major restructuring of High Wycombe based Headquarters Strike Command - the Royal Air Force headquarters responsible for all front line fighting and support aircraft. Strike Command units have been in the thick of operations recently and the Command procedures for the delivery of combat capability to the Permanent Joint Headquarters have been a success story. Nonetheless, Strike Command is re-structuring to make its reaction to crisis and expeditionary operations even more responsive.
The new look Strike Command will continue to have three groups, but these will be organised around operational capability to streamline command and control as well as generate synergy between force elements with a similar role. Nr 11/18 Group, formed from Nr 11 Group of Battle of Britain fame and Nr 18 Group, famous for its maritime heritage, will close, as will Nr 38 Group that currently operates our Hercules, VC10 and TriStar aircraft. Nr 1 Group remains but will be bolstered by the inclusion of Tornado F3 units from No 11/18 Group. The future Nr 1 Group will operate all the RAF's frontline fast-jet aircraft, except the Harrier.
Nr 2 Group will see its fifth reincarnation, having been in service several times between 1918 and 1996. It will operate all the aircraft and force elements that support frontline operations. These will include the air transport and air-to-air refueling aircraft from Nr 38 Group and the Nimrod R and E3-D aircraft from Nr 11/18 Group, as well as the RAF Regiment and Ground Based Air Defence systems. The Group will also be responsible, in the future, for ASTOR and the RAF's information collection aircraft.
The third Strike Command Group will be Nr 3 Group, a famous Group from the old Bomber Command days that last saw service operating V-Bombers in the 1960s. Nr 3 Group will be the home of the new 'Joint Force Harrier'. The Group will also include Nimrod MPA, Search and Rescue helicopters and Mountain Rescue Teams. Perhaps a first in RAF history, the first AOC 3 Group will be a Rear Admiral; Rear Admiral Henderson, the current Flag Officer Naval Aviation. He is also The Flag Officer Maritime Aviation, NATO's Commander Air East and Maritime Air North and, importantly, he remains the 'Tribal Chief' of the Fleet Air Arm.
Alongside the changes to the Groups will be the forging of Strike Command staffs into an even more responsive unit. The present Senior Air Staff Officer Strike Command will become Deputy Chief of Staff Operations with particular responsibilities for the delivery of air power, support to operations, joint training and force development. A cornerstone of the restructuring will be the formation of a new national Joint Force Air Component HQ to provide a core of trained air battlestaff for deployment in support of JOINT Rapid Reaction Force operations. The Air Warfare Centre at Waddington and the Military Air Traffic Organisation staffs at Uxbridge will also come under the command of DCOS Ops to ensure that all capabilities within the Command are focussed towards maximising Strike Command's operational capability.
To mark the inauguration of 'Joint Force Harrier' at Wittering, in front of a distinguished guest list Minister of State for the Armed Forces John Spellar said:
"This process marks a practical and symbolic step towards the creation of a truly joint Organisation, heralded in the Strategic Defence Review as 'Joint Force 2000', that brings together the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft with the Royal Air Force's Harrier GR7s. It marks the logical next chapter in a process that began with the first carrier deployment of RAF Harriers as part of the Falklands Task Force in 1982, and builds on the recent success of operating together in Joint Carrier Air Groups in the Gulf and Adriatic. The challenge was to move forward from a situation where the two Services were operating two different aircraft types, from different bases and with very different concepts of operations. Our vision is to achieve a truly Joint force that will eventually be re-equipped with the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft, due in service in 2012, and capable of operating effectively from either the Future Aircraft Carriers or austere land bases.
Most importantly, we look to Joint Force Harrier to provide an enhanced Operational Capability. Routinely training and operating together - either at sea, or over the land - will allow a common approach to tactics, procedures and standards. The opportunity to identify Best Practice, and to implement it across the board, will improve both effectiveness and efficiency. And, of course, the Joint Force will develop its own particular esprit de corps, whilst preserving the unique character and ethos of both its parent Services."
'Joint Force Harrier' is one of the key initiatives announced in the Strategic Defence Review and has been delivered in twenty months. It will provide a force able to deploy from land and sea, be capable of precision attack of sea, land and air targets and be able to undertake timely reconnaissance. In addition, it will be able to provide air escort of joint and allied assets.
Operating a total of 138 aircraft, fifty front-line aircraft will form five squadrons, (Nrs 800, 801, 1(F), 3(F) and IV(AC)), backed up by RN (899 NAS) and RAF (20(R) Sqn) training units. The aircraft will initially be based at three locations (RNAS Yeovilton, RAF Wittering and RAF Cottesmore), but in 2003 the RN squadrons will move from Yeovilton. Thereafter, all front-line squadrons will be at RAF Cottesmore, and both training units will be at RAF Wittering.
Comparisons of the two Harrier variants are inevitable. A world class Day/Night attack aircraft with advanced passive sensor suite, the GR7 can self-designate and deliver 1000 lb laser guided bombs, using the LJK-developed TLKLD pod. It also carries the 1000 lb and 540 lb general purpose bombs, and can attack with CRV7 unguided rockets. It carries Sidewinder for self defence, to be upgraded to ASRAAM, and will be armed with the new UK Brimstone and Storm Shadow weapons. The GR7 has a land-based medium level reconnaissance role supported by UK-developed wet film sensor pod. Image exploitation is conducted by non-Harrier RAF support assets.
Its counterpart, the FA2, is a world class Air Defence Fighter, carrying the world's most advanced medium range missile (US developed AMRAAM), coupled to cutting edge radar (UK developed Blue Vixen). FA2 also carries Sidewinders for short range combat, with plans to upgrade to the UK developed ASRAAM. FA2 also carries the 30mm Aden cannon and has a very effective secondary attack capability carrying 1,000 lb laser guided bombs, and 1,000 lb and 540 lb general purpose bombs. It can carry out limited wet film reconnaissance tasks from low level with its built in F95 camera.
Long-term, the Joint Force will operate the Future Carrier-Borne Aircraft, based upon 'Joint Strike Fighter' (JSF). FCBA will operate from land and sea aboard two new large carriers. It will be stealthy, supersonic, flexible, deployable, multi-role and multi-mission capable.