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The War Nerd / March 28, 2011
By Gary Brecher

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an 80s revivial. You’re in Safeway stocking up for the night and start feeling rotten without knowing why. Then you catch a familiar syrupy drama-club vocal and you realize, Oh yeah, it hey’re playing one of those 80s revival songs on the muzak.

That’s how I felt this weekend when I saw a picture of the USMC Harrier AV8B “Jump Jet” (even that sounds like an 80s band), a classic 80s freak of procurement infighting. The Harrier is getting its picture on the news because it’s supposedly “hitting targets inside Libya.” What it’s actually doing is showing the flag, and I don’t mean the stars and stripes. I mean Marine Corps Air Wing. The story of the AV8B is just one long series of turf wars. As a weapon of war, the AV8B is a joke, but as a turf-weapon, a blunt instrument for the Corps to whack the Navy with, it’s a killer.

It’s also a killer in the simple sense, as in it kills people. Not the enemy. It’s a rinkydink little toy plane with no ordnance capacity or range, so it can’t do much to kill the enemy. But it sure has killed a lot of pilots. The total was 45 dead in 2002, when the LA Times did an expose on the Harrier—a good, thorough story, one of the few mainstream takedowns of military procurement that really tracks.

So how’d we get stuck with it anyway? Long, messy story. All about turf. US turf vs. British turf. Marine Corps vs. Navy. Carriers vs. Landing Craft/Assault ships. And nothing much about making a plane that kills the enemy or keeps its pilots alive.

I remember all of it. I was dead serious about hardware in those days and I followed every single issue of AFJ and AW&ST, used to stalk the library looking for them if the latest issue wasn’t on the shelves, look laser rays at whoever was hogging the red-metal framed “CURRENT COPY” until I could get my fat hands on it. And every issue had something new on the real war: the war to fund the Harrier.

Bedtime for Harrier-zo

It all came out of one of those DoD double-takes. This one came early in the Reagan years: “Whoa! We’ve been counting on beating the Warsaw Pact’s massed tanks with air power, but…what if they attack our air bases? Crater our runways?”

You’d think someone would have thought a little harder about that beforehand. Well, you’d’a thunk wrong. This is something most hardware-oriented, gullible war fans never seem to get. They assume someone, somewhere in the halls of the Pentagon’s thought it all through. They haven’t. Their job is to push funding, and they’re good at it. They don’t get paid to think about what gets funded and whether it’s going to work.

So all through the seriously tense years when we faced off in a proxy war, West vs. East Germany, USAF commanders played their war games by rules that said their bases would be secure, their runways would be flyable, our planes would get off the ground and then get some. Everything would be set like a table in the Officers’ Club, including the long, smooth runways our prima donna fighters needed.

It’s a shame we don’t get to do a short trip to an alternative past where we get to see what the Soviets and East German special services actually had planned for all those airbases. Can you imagine a few platoons of SpetzNaz going to town on a US airbase on a Sunday in the 1970s? One thing we do know is that the Warsaw Pact plan was to attack on a Sunday because “West Germany virtually shut down on the weekend.” Man, you could’ve identified the nearest airbase by the pillars of black smoke, and I’m not just talking about the joints the guards were smoking.

So, just as this new tech called V/STOL (vertical/short takeoff and landing) technology came on the market, NATO found out it had an airfield problem. Thousands of Soviet attack jets, a few vulnerable airbases in a crowded little country like West Germany—eek! We’re doomed!

And they were right, they were doomed. I’ll never know why the Soviets didn’t attack, because they’d have won a conventional war in a week. I read an interview with a former East German tank commander after the Wall fell. They asked him, “What was your planned stop point?” He said, “Antwerp.”

The V/STOL technology involved shaping airframes and aiming engine nozzles so that planes could take off on rough, unimproved airbases, or if necessary just take off vertically—though that’s always been more of a gimmick than a fact. The idea was that these V/STOL planes could use any German road for a runway (assuming they weren’t jammed with civilian cars fleeing) and be refueled by mobile tankers and maintenance crews. The 80s saw a lot of new defensive ideas for stopping a massed Warsaw Pact tank attack, most of them pretty silly but very profitable for contractors. The simple way to stop that attack was too obvious and unprofitable to interest anybody: nuke’em. And that’s probably what would have happened if the Russians had sent the tanks through the Fulda Gap; we’d have used nukes, small battlefield nukes like Lance at first, then Pershings, then the Say-Goodbye-to-the-Northern-Hemisphere kind, until somebody in the Kremlin saw the light and called it off. They knew that, we knew that, and that’s why we never had to play it out for reals.

But it was much more fun, and you could make way more money, thinking of cool gadgety conventional ways to fight a Warsaw Pact blitzkrieg. Like the whole V/STOL deal: Cool NATO fighters gassing up and levitating from country roads in Germany! Rising like mosquitoes out of the lawn to zap the invaders! All fantasy—there just wasn’t enough strategic depth in W. Germany to hide a Jetta, let alone an air wing—but it meant jobs, jobs, jobs.

V/STOL tech did pay off well in another area, transport. The C-17 was designed with reinforced shocks, extra wheels, and the whole bunched-up airframe you need for short landings. And it’s worked, turned out useful, since a lot of the places you need to transport materiel to don’t have airports with first-class lounges.

But for a fighter, V/STOL was a pretty obvious boondoggle—because there was an obvious alternative method called “in-flight refueling” that meant fighters could take off from secure bases anywhere in the world, refuel in flight, and be stacked over the battlefield by controllers to be used as necessary. Since V/STOL was a huge, huge design cost on a fighter, it just made more sense to skip it and put the savings into building fighters like the F-16 (which has some limited STOL capability) that could accomplish something once they got where they were headed.

None of that stopped the V/STOL fighter momentum in the UK. It was their signature product; one of their little princes flew in it (can’t remember which one, don’t really want to know). The early UK versions of the plane were called “Day Attack,” meaning they were so weak after all the tinkering that went into that fancy V/STOL tech that there was no room left for payload, avionics or much of anything else. They were circus planes, James Bond planes, great for doing their one trick, levitating like a chopper, but useless for anything else. But it was a pretty low time for the British military aviation industry so they pushed the Harrier very hard.

And they found a customer in the USMC, for reasons that had nothing to do with combat. Think about the whole USMC/Navy relationship. It would drive any two services crazy. The Corps has its own air wing—and its own armor, own everything; that’s one war the Corps will never lose, the fight to keep its turf and expand it if possible. The Marine Corps saw the Harrier as a plane it could own from go to whoa. A plane like that could fly off modified assault ships, Corps territory, and slide out from under the Navy’s carriers.

And that’s why the AV8B is still in service after 30 years, still killing pilots, still doing its circus moves (to this day, no AV8B has used its vertical launch on a single combat mission) and flying off the USS Kearsage as part of the MEU in Libya. MEU, that’s “Marine Expeditionary Unit” and it tells you what you need to know about the Harrier: It’s Corps all the way, puts them on a longer leash from the Navy, and they’re keeping it, letting it drop a bomb or two on Qaddafi’s tanks. In fact this is the Harrier’s kind of war. The enemy can’t shoot, the desert makes pickup easy when the damn thing conks out on you, and there are plenty of glamor shots for the international press.

Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.

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Add your own

  • 1. jon  |  March 28th, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    As dozens of commentators are about to say….it did alright in the Falklands.

  • 2. CB  |  March 28th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Don’t forget that the Harrier was also instrumental in allowing an action scene where Schwarzenegger’s on-screen daughter could jump from a crane atop a skyscraper onto a jet. Couldn’t do that with a regular jet, or a helicopter!

    Oh yeah, and the Harrier also allowed the humans to defeat John Travolta in Battlefield Earth!

    Damn… even their fictional track record is shaming.

  • 3. Mike  |  March 28th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    The old joke back in the day was if you wanted to own a Harrier, just buy land near Cherry Point. One day, you’ll see one growing from the ground.

    Does have one of the best ejection seats made though….

  • 4. kingtoots  |  March 28th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    You make a good points. However, the Harrier did allow CAS in the Falklands, which I think helped the troops. I mean if all you have is little more than an amphibious carrier, and you have a decent screen, the Harrier does kind of make some sense if you aren’t the US and when you want to project power on mid-range power.

    As for Russians attacking through Fulda Gap on Sunday. Everyone knew that if that if a coordinated and determined attack happened, we were fucked. All those Abraham and Leopards would have been just as good as if we had cardboard cutouts, but they did have PR value.

    Funny story, I remember a course we took which was given to all the English speaking NATO Naval officers, kind of like “Know Your Enemy”. It was presented in a kind of entertainingly camp fashion by a Yank, Canuk, and a Limey, I think they had gotten a little tired of doing the same presentation over and over so they decided to turn it into a stand up skit. They pointed out that all that “Team B” stuff was crap (Russians have death rays!) and that the Russians were on the verge of collapse. They said that the Russians had a fetish of commissioning fueling tenders as “ships” which would show up in their counts and make them look impressive, stuff like that. But the key thing I took away and made me feel pity instead of fear was that we in the west had a plan and if the west was going to attack we would do it on New Years because everyone, and I mean everyone was drunk, men women and children. Zero signal traffic from about 10pm to 8am Moscow time. We had that in our favour and and the fact that the Russian NCO corps was psychotic, lazy and unprofessional.

  • 5. Hannibal  |  March 28th, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    “…A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, he flew in the first Harrier squadron trained in this country. “He was very excited about the possibilities of that plane,” she said. “It was a whole new part of aviation.”

    “…Simpson learned to fly as a teenager and studied airport management in college. He flew A-4s until the Marines assigned him to the Harrier in 1980, said his mother, Marva Simpson. “He was in awe of the Harrier,” she said.”

    “After a Harrier crashed in Nevada, Wilson called his mother to assure her he was not the pilot. “I said, ‘Robbie, why do you fly that damnable airplane?’ ” recalled his mother, Ann Bandgren. “And he said: ‘Mother, it’s not a damnable aircraft. It’s a wonderful aircraft and I love it. I’m right with God, and I’m doing what I want to do.’ ”

    “Donnelly believed in the aircraft’s mission of providing close air support to ground troops. And he was supremely confident in his ability to handle it, she said. “He was not intimidated by anything.”

    Military indoctrination is a helluva drug.

  • 6. Eddie  |  March 28th, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Yet somehow they learned nothing. They recreated the same nightmare with the F-35.

    #1. An airplane that is fat and has tiny wings. This makes for a horrible wing loading. This means that each square meter of wing carries a lot of load. The less load each square meter carries, the more the lift that the aircraft generates can be devoted to turning. Basically the F-35 does not turn very well, every MIG out there could easily outturn it.

    #2. It relies on a flawed assumption that the airplane itself would be invisible to radar. They neglect to say that it’s only invisible to air radar and only directly from the front. If the target is just a few degrees of from dead ahead it is visible. Also visible to all ground radars.

    #3. It has a horrible maintenance requirement, just like the F-22. This is very important because it decreases the number of sorties you are able to do and decreases the number of flight hours for training for the pilots. The most important factor in an air war is pilot training. One of my favorite anecdote is the story of the 1973 Israeli victory against the Arabs. The Israelis where flying Mirages against the Arab MiGs. The outcome was 80-to-1 in favor for the Israelis. After the battle Gen. Mordecai Hod, famously remarked that the outcome would have been the same if both sides had swapped planes.

    #4. Due to weight issues the airplane has an extremely thin skin. Any bullet fired from the ground would just go through the plane. And I mean ANY bullet.

    #5. It has a huge fuel flow. Making it useless for reconnoissance because it has no loiter capabilities.

    I could go on and on and on about this aircraft. It’s a dog in every one of it’s many roles.

    Instead I will just try to emphasize the role of the pilot in air combat some more.

    In every war we have fought since Would War I(the first conflict in which aircraft appeared) a tiny handful of pilots have dominated every air-to-air battle. Roughly 10 percent of all pilots (killers) score 60 percent to 80 percent of the dogfight kills, the other 90 percent of pilots (victims) are the fodder for the killers of the opposing side. Technical performance differences between opposing fighter planes pale in comparison.

  • 7. Gideon's Sword  |  March 28th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Hmmm, you criticize the British version of the Harrier yet you fail to account for how it won the Falkland’s Air War. It was outnumbered, thousands of miles from friendly territory and even facing ground based Argentinean anti air yet still managed to shoot down 23 enemies for very small losses.

  • 8. Nor Word  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    According to my best friend in college (a USMC Pilot) the saying went: “Ohh look, it’s a Harrier” “Quick, make a wish!”

  • 9. RC  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Well, to be fair, the Harrier came in pretty handy to the Brits when they had to get back the Falklands. And despite being a rather poor ground attack aircraft, it turned out to be a surprisingly tough little dogfighter, which set off a whole generation of engineers thinking about thrust vectoring.
    Otherwise, you are right:V/STOL was, and still is, very much a creature of service turf wars and opportunistic defense suppliers. Harriers have been flown by the USMC to spite the USN, and by the British, Spanish, Italian, Indian, and Thai navies to spite their respective air forces. Still, as V/STOL boondoggles go, Harrier is far from being the most egregious. That title doesn’t even go to its prospective successor, the ludicrously budget-busting F-35B, or to the V-22 tilt-rotor, an aircraft that managed to kill 30 people before even entering service. It doesn’t even go to the handful of doomed European supersonic V/STOL fighter projects of the 1960s, like the German VJ-101 or the French Mirage G, aircraft with more engines than a Formula 1 starting grid. Not even the absurd German V/STOL transport jet Dornier Do 31, a 60s project whose least problematic flaw was that it ran out of fuel shortly after take off, or the German, French and American “tail sitter” prototypes of the 40s and 50s. Nope, the title for “Most Ridiculous V/STOL Project to Ever Extort Public Funding by All Means Fair or (Mostly) Foul” goes to the DuPont DP-2 (aka the Flying Nostril), an aircraft so foul that the Pentagon spent 30 years fighting off the attempts by a few Congressmen, mainly Duncan Hunter and the notoriously corrupt Randy Cunningham, to foist it upon the armed forces…

  • 10. Doug  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I remember reading something somewhat related. Basically air battles are pretty much the archetypical example of Lanchester’s Square Law:'s_laws

    Therefore if considering purchasing aircraft that’s two more expensive (and hence you only get half as much) the aircraft has to basically have four times the performance. Maybe there was some justification for this going back to WWII when you had straight up dog fights, and maneuverability, speed and control really mattered. However in modern air-to-air combat the planes are basically just flying platforms to launch missiles.

    Since the missiles are standardized no matter which plane you’re in, the argument that the power of fighter jets scales up quadratically with price is pretty dubious. Basically modern air forces would be better with a ton of mostly slow hunks of junk that can carry a shitton of air-to-air missiles, and just barely fly/high fast enough to avoid surface-to-air issues.

  • 11. Chris E  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    The harrier was great in the Falklands because it was highly manouverable and facing heavily laden fighter bombers at the extremes of their range – who couldn’t wait to turn around and run because otherwise they were going to end up in the Atlantic.

  • 12. wYSeGuy  |  March 28th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    What Was Your Planned Stop Point?


    HAHAHAHA! Man I LoLed so hard on that.
    That’s what I read the War Nerd for. Belly Laughs. Good one eXile-Volken.

  • 13. swummyfooshes  |  March 28th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    the brits weren’t exactly fighting a trained army force, the argentine military at the time was conscripted, and softer then a bag of water. plus it wasn’t the conventional british troops on the ground it was paras, gurhkas, sas, etc. all highly trained. i imagine it to be comparable to invading iraq in 03

    the brits also had nuclear submarines (sunk argentinas carrier the belgrano), and the british had carriers in open sea and their beloved harrier jets were armed with US supplied aim9 sidewinder missiles, one of the few FUNCTIONING infared homing missiles at the time

    argentina got raped in the falklands, it is almost mythical to say argentina ever stood a chance just because they sank the freighter carrying all the brits chinooks. they were trying to defend a deep sea island with no air support and a defense of drunk pussies and criminals

    does anyone else feel that the falklands were nothing more then a proving ground for the harrier, the aim9, and a number of anglo/amer military techs?

  • 14. FalconFixer  |  March 28th, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    This is the dumbest of your dumb ass articles yet. F-16’s have “some limited STOL capability”? Um, no. Not even a little. The F-16’s dainty landing gear requires pristine paved runway. Every article of yours I read contain this kind of total nonsense. Are you just basing your “facts” from half-remembered Tom Clancy novels?

  • 15. Mitch Cumstein  |  March 28th, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Whoever wrote that armchair analysis of F-35 and its supposedly weak air dynamics (nevermind that no one has concrete information on all this besides the design team), dont forget avionics. This isnt 1973, its not 1943 and its not 1916, vonRichtofens get equalized by radar and technology.

    And its all about technology. When was the last time US pilots were involved in actual dogfights? Actual dynamics, Immelmans, etc, this simply doesnt happen anymore. F-35 and F22’s avionics are everything. Recent combat exercise in Alaska showed exactly what advantage this is, the 22 knocked out every F-15 sent to intercept it before Eagle drivers even knew what hit them.

    btw, War Nerd, please more articles on tribal, political and social aspects of all this, less with the hardware. It really does bring out the worst kind of nerds. Maybe a historical article on Libya and its long and interesting history? Doesnt have to be long, but it would be infinitely more interesting than this. Thanks!

  • 16. Mason C  |  March 28th, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    The Harrier’s chief accomplishment in the Falklands was the cover of Newsweek (and later, RAF Mount Pleasant). They were half-decent for CAP, but overall a silly excuse for air. Anyone remember “The Brits would trade Maggie Thatcher for a CVN”? Were the Argentines possessed of a clue, they would have cleaned house. We were twelve and could see that.

  • 17. yossarian  |  March 28th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I thought for sure you were gonna mention John Boyd this time.

  • 18. TheWarTurd  |  March 28th, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Gary,what is your take on the clusterfuck that was 26/11. How would a Western/American/Russian:-) security apparatus have tackled the situation?

  • 19. Diablo  |  March 28th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    I always wondered if the Soviets did invade, would the US use those three man, nuclear tipped mortars? The things that left the crew within the blast range of the device. I though we had a crap load of them in Europe. I think they were called the Davy Crockets or something? Would have made for an interesting few years dealing with the fallout…

  • 20. Erik  |  March 28th, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    The Swedes are building a small multirole plane that can take off and land on their magnificently maintained public roads. Depots are littering the Swedish forests or are dug into the mountains.

    The idea is to maintain operational capability even if air superiority is lost, a scenario that was the cornerstone of Swedish cold war doctrines.

  • 21. jack kane  |  March 28th, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I just understood why you guys post your newsbreaks in ALL CAPS. It’s because people can’t read anything that is non-caps or longer than 140 characters. Before, I thought you were merely being intentionally obnoxious.

    Libya, I’m sure someone must have mentioned by now that there exists a West Point study saying Eastern Libya = al-Qaeda . Webster Tarpley and Alex Cockburn wrote on this. What a fucking joke this Libyan war. Can you believe the War-Criminal-In-Chief B.H.Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize? Then again, they gave one to Kissinger. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    I was gonna say that we’re fucked, but Ames and Dolan have been repeating that for years, so why bother.

  • 22. Grechko  |  March 28th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    @4 kingtutdz: Da, kingktudz. Da, da, da! MY VSE BYLI PYANY, KAK CHERTOVSKI LISNEN SANA SVYASHCHENNIKA! Drunk as defrocked priests were we. Back then, things just didn’t get no better. If Amerika had dropped its big bomby on us, it would have killed no more than 15-20 expendable kulaks. All the rest of us were embalmed in good Soviet alcohol. It was not until around 2001 that we finally built out Mount Yamantau. Now we don’t give a shit what anybody does to us. You should visit Mt. Yamantau on Princess Cruise and see how new Russia can party. Room for 90 million people, all facilities underground. Indoor tennis and swimming. Nubile, willing Iranian ‘dyevy’. You send me, Grechko, bank account number. I send you entrance ticket.

  • 23. SweetLeftFoot  |  March 28th, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    If the Harriers were so great on CAP in the Falklands, how did the Argentinian planes get close enough to cripple Brit destroyers with dumb bombs?

  • 24. Patrick  |  March 28th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Wouldn’t the Harrier be a good jet for Taiwan? In any conflict with China the airfields would be toast and they would need a mobile aircraft that could operate on highways.

  • 25. RC  |  March 28th, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Also, it’s amusing to see the War Nerd buy into NATO’s quaint and long-discredited official ground war nuclear escalation scenario. Of course the Soviets weren’t dumb enough to send their shock troops into the Fulda Gap to be vaporized by NATO’s nuclear tactical strikes. This is why now-declassified Warsaw Pact battle plans, under the wonderful euphemism of “pre-emptive retaliation”, called for a preparatory nuclear bombardment before even sending the first APCs over the line. This is why the Red Army took NBC protection so seriously: it wasn’t NATO’s nukes they were worried about, but the fact that they would have turned most of Western Europe into a radioactive plain before setting foot onto it.
    Since in hindsight it’s pretty clear that the US would never have put Peoria at risk to defend Düsseldorf, it turns out that not only NATO’s conventional forces would have been worthless, its nuclear deterrent was also a sham. Ultimately we owe the survival of Western Europe only to two factors: first, that even the most hardboiled Politburo members grew queasy at the prospect of being responsible for over one hundred million deaths, and second, (and I know that I’m going to be controversial here) to the French nuclear mad dog tactics. By letting it known that he’d be ready to vaporize Moscow before any Soviet soldier came anywhere near the Rhine, whether the Americans liked it or not, de Gaulle introduced an impredectible factor into the Soviet strategic equation.

  • 26. Eddie  |  March 28th, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    @Mitch Cumstein

    If you think you will be able to fight the Russians or the Chinese on their home turf using radar guided missiles fired from long range, you are in for a rude awakening. Let’s hope it never comes to that because they will create a few new assholes on each of your shiny avionics laden pieces of shit you call aircraft. The only aircraft that stand any chance out there are the older, F-15, F-18, or F-16.

    So it’s about avionics huh? Can you tell me the efficiency of radar guided missiles?

    Well, they are 1/2 of IR missiles.

    And IR missiles are 1/2 as efficient as gun kill. This despite continuous research since 1948.

    Every time I talk to people who know nothing about missiles and radar they somehow think we live in star wars time where missiles always find their target in clean nice kills. That’s not how it works in the real world. In the real world and in real combat a whole lot shit happen and the enemy somehow is doing everything it can not to be shot. The enemy also has a way of figuring out where your strength are and always avoid fighting you in that way.

    Let me tell you what is going to happen. Take it from me, I have read a whole lot of documentation on this matter.

    Your F-35 will fire every missile that it’s limited cargo bay can carry and hit jack shit. Now the MiG’s have the advantage. Remember it is slower and way less maneuverable then any of the MiG’s out there. It can’t run, can’t outturn, basically can’t fight. Use your imagination on this one.

  • 27. postman  |  March 28th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Dear exiled,

    Here we go…
    Hardware porn again…
    I prefer when the other guy writes the War Nerd articles….

  • 28. Eddie  |  March 29th, 2011 at 1:09 am

    @Mitch Cumstein

    Another little tip for you Cumstein. Whenever you read about the supposed success of the F-22 against the F-15. Ignore that. That is a completely staged fight between the blue team for political reasons. Maybe they want more funding for the F-22. Maybe they need to somehow justify this airplane to the public. After all it has been useless in any of the combat that the US has been involved in up to now. You basically don’t need the F-22 if you are fighting third war nations. You need it if you fight Russia or China. And for that no amount of staged exercises between American aircraft is going to show you anything. Even if it secretly does you will definitely not read about that in the reports.

  • 29. Strelnikov  |  March 29th, 2011 at 1:15 am

    The whole reason Britain pushed the Harrier hard was that in the late `50s the RAF felt that jets were on the way out and that surface to surface and anti-aircraft missiles were the wave of the future. It never happened, so for 12-15 years the RN and RAF soldiered on in aging planes until Whitehall changed their tune. The Harrier was developed as a private venture by Hawker Siddeley that was later sold to British Aerospace and then McDonnell-Douglas. The USMC first tried the plane out in 1972.

  • 30. observer  |  March 29th, 2011 at 1:24 am

    I am surprised that you’ve never actually written anything substantive about Kosovo or Bosnia

  • 31. Strahlungsamt  |  March 29th, 2011 at 2:29 am

    I’ll tell you why the Kommies didn’t storm through the Fulda Gap and annihilate Western Europe.

    Because, thanks to West Berlin, West Germany was funneling huge payola to the East to keep the transit routes open (and to bail out West German tourists who got too adventurous in the GDR).

    Everything from the autobahns to the Berlin Subway was paid for in Deutschmarks. Also, they were paying the bills for the US, British and French bases there (not to mention the Russian shenannigans – think Rudolf Hess in Spandau), down to the last garbage bag which had to be imported from America.

    Hell, even Gorbatchev got them to pay for the upkeep of all the Soviet memorials dotted all over the ex-GDR in exchange for letting them reunify (which neither Yeltsin nor Putin has let them go back on).

    Given the USSR’s already decrepit industrial structure, the last thing they needed was to nuke their own paymasters.

  • 32. Mr. Bad  |  March 29th, 2011 at 4:04 am

    @ Eddie

    Why don’t you just link to the Pierre Sprey article ? You basically just bullet pointed his analysis for us, so here is a link for those who want to read it in its entirety:

    @ Mitch Cumstein

    Exactly, the avionics on the F-22 and F-35 are all important, the F-35 may be a boondoggle but US pilots are still the second best in the world (after IDF)and log the most hours and have best support, will prevail in almost any air to air engagement no matter what the aircraft limitations, which are not that great considering the “threat”, which will likely not be other pilots/fighter aircraft in 30 years.

    As War Nerd correctly observed, this is the last gen manned fighter group, smaller and more capable drone aircraft will make up the majority of US air power in the near future.

  • 33. FOARP  |  March 29th, 2011 at 4:15 am

    Yet more proof, as if proof were needed, that War Nerd is John Dolan. It goes like this:

    – John Dolan hates the UK.

    – Therefore War Nerd hates the UK.

    – The Harrier comes from the UK.

    – Therefore War Nerd hates the Harrier.

    It doesn’t matter that the Harrier is a pretty solid multi-role aircraft with a proven track-record. Yeah, the safety record isn’t great, and it’s vulnerable to ground fire (five lost in the Falklands this way), but it can take off and land virtual anywhere there’s decent hard-standing.

    Hell, it’s War Nerd who’s always going on about how surprise weapons are the way for a small opponent to overcome a big one. Here you have a strike fighter that can take off from a barge, (reinforced) building or jungle/mountain location.

    Can you imagine what a sneaky Iranian commander could do with a weapon like this in a conflict with the US in the Gulf? Imagine US ships suddenly being blasted by Sea Eagle missiles fired from 60 miles away by a Harrier which then disappears from radar contact as it goes low and slinks back to it innocent-looking barge to refuel and re-arm.

    It also enable countries which don’t have a lot of resources to have their own carrier potential. The very reason the USMC, the RN the Spanish, Italians, Indians etc. love/loved this plane is because it is/was versatile like that.

    And yeah, head-to-head with Argentine F-4s, Mirages, Daggers, and Pucaras, the Harrier scored 21-0 in air-to-air combat. That’s right, there were no air-to-air losses of Harriers despite being outnumbered.

  • 34. Eddie  |  March 29th, 2011 at 7:01 am

    @Mr. Bad

    I keep hearing this mantra repeated time and time again. Always by Americans. We are the best in the world and we would defeat everyone no matter what the limitations of any of our hardware. This level of analysis is the reason that you are a second world nation in almost any category. That includes fighting and combat.

    Seriously. Blank out the names of the countries of any real important criteria for being a first world nation and guess where your nation is placed. Usually in the 40’s somewhere.

    Nowhere in the world do people need so much sunshine blown up their asses as in the good old USA. Your analysis of the fighter training for US crew is incorrect like everything else you write. The US air crew are nowhere near being the best in the world.

    They are certainly the most well funded, but as we know funding is not the number one criteria for success in any field. In case it was your healthcare and education system would rank much much higher then it actually does.

    You would not be fighting and loosing two wars in the middle east, and your air force would not be littered with stupid shit that only exists so that Raytheon, Boeing and the other important contractors get paid.

    You don’t know that this is the last generation of manned fighter aircraft. Wars have a way of disproving many of the stupid ideas that we humans tell ourselves. If and when manned aircraft fight unmanned ones and loose we will know that for sure.

    By the way, why do you assume that the drones will be more capable then the shit you have now? Are they not built by the same people who build your useless shit now? What makes you think that people who continuously fail in the design of aircraft but still get paid would do any better next time. My guess would be they do even worse.

  • 35. Gandalf  |  March 29th, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Regarding the Falklands… The reason the the british overwhelmed the argies in air combat is because of the Sidewinder-L AAM (AIM-9L) which had the ability to attack head-on, the Argies had nothing like it.

    Forget the BS about dogfighting and crap, you flew towards them when withing range launch, and watch them splash. You could well had used F4F for that.

  • 36. FOARP  |  March 29th, 2011 at 8:12 am

    @Sweetleftfoot – I seem to remember the Japanese were still managing to sneak some aircraft through the US CAP even in the last few years of the war. The Argies weren’t quite so brave as the Japanese, but they were brave enough, and were willing to sustain a lot of losses to get their bombers into Fox Bay.

    Bottom line is the Harriers couldn’t be everywhere at once, the radars and missiles of the RN fleet weren’t much use in the mountainous fiord that was Fox Bay, and a lot of the SAM gear the British Army had wasn’t up to scratch.

    For all that, the Argies never managed to get close enough to bomb a major unit, although the losses among the destroyers would have been a lot greater had the Argies simply fused their bombs correctly – the majority of hits they scored simply didn’t go off.

    @Patrick – Problem is the US is the only country that’ll sell to Taiwan any more, and Taiwan has a lot of problem passing procurement bills for even small things.

    @Swummyfooshes – Since the Argies were also armed pretty much entirely with US/French/British tech, a lot of it just as advanced as that used by the British, it’s not like it was just a exercise.

    Fact is the British won because:

    1) They were an all volunteer force, whereas the Argentines were mostly conscripts, and conscripts who had just been enroled at that.

    2) Morale – the Argentine conscripts were cold and hungry by the time the battle started, and this showed in their performance.

    3) A lot of luck. Had the last Argentine air-launched Exocet found its intended target (an aircraft carrier, probably HMS Invincible), had the Argies fused their bombs properly, had the Argentine army dug in properly and done a decent job of looking after their soldiers, War Nerd would probably have written a gloating piece on the Argie victory years ago.

    Instead War Nerd ignores all the British wars except those he can castigate us about (IRA, Sri Lanka, etc.) or which connect with his quixotic nature (Gen. Gordon). Not that I mind too much, British fighting has always been pretty pedestrian.

  • 37. FOARP  |  March 29th, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Shit, I mean San Carlos, not Fox Bay.

  • 38. Gary Brecher is John Dolan?!?  |  March 29th, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Yeah, thanks for the newsflash, Brokaw.

  • 39. debaser  |  March 29th, 2011 at 8:38 am

    As much as the tech conversation is interesting, i can read about tech anywhere, i read WAR NERD (loved the book too by the way) for the brutal realities of the matters at hand… tell it how it is, we dont need to reinvent JANES.

  • 40. Otter541  |  March 29th, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I grew up in England for a while in the early ’70’s, my dad was a defense contractor there for a few years and I remember Harriers falling out of the sky on a regular basis. They’d go for the vertical take-off, lose power at about 100 feet, fall, and explode. If the pilot was lucky he’d grab the “Loud Handle” in time. I remember there were jokes at the time about how “that’s what happens when you pop the clutch too fast. There was also a rumor that a small caliber gun was pointed at the pilot from a hole in the instrument panel that would fire in such a circumstance, killing the pilot quickly. There was a hole in the panel, but it was to jam the fire extinguisher into to kill an electrical fire in the panel.

  • 41. Mr. Bad  |  March 29th, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    @ Eddie

    ROFL, embarrassing to be called out for plagiarism in front of all the kids,eh? Is your e-peen a little shorter than it was when you woke up and read my comment? Sorry bro, truly sorry.

    I love how you went to all that trouble to write a post with zero content, just bile, and all to me, I’m flattered. I love even more how, in the post you copied from Sprey’s article, you closed with “I could go on and on”… but what? But you ran out of someone else’s article to claim as your own analysis, practically verbatim? LOL

    We are not “loosing” any wars that I’m aware of, are you a euro-peon? You sure sound like a butthurt weirdo.

  • 42. gary  |  March 30th, 2011 at 1:15 am

    i was living in miami during the falklands war…it was the only city in america that was rooting for argentina “las malvinas es argrntine’ was the popular bumper sticker..dumb war started by two politcal hacks hoping looking to bump up for the harrier being good at cap how come the brittish ships kept bursting into flames..the argentine army was lame but those airforce guys were not too make matters even worse the damage was done by french planes shootng french missiles viva argentina

  • 43. Flite-sim jinkie  |  March 30th, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Harrier design is rip off from yak38 so its a lot cheaper than would have been designing from scratch.

  • 44. Carpenter  |  March 30th, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    And that’s probably what would have happened if the Russians had sent the tanks through the Fulda Gap; we’d have used nukes, small battlefield nukes like Lance at first, then Pershings, then the Say-Goodbye-to-the-Northern-Hemisphere kind, until somebody in the Kremlin saw the light and called it off. They knew that, we knew that, and that’s why we never had to play it out for reals.

    Exactly, and that’s why I think Robert Oppenheimer should get the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously. (Take it back from Obama, make the three social democrats in the five-man Nobel committee apologize.) If it hadn’t been for the Atomic Bomb there would have been a World War III, because as we know from Soviet documents and confessions they were dead set on invading Western Europe. It was the whole reason for the USSR’s existence, it was built like a war machine. Didn’t even have to restructure in the WWII mobilization because it was already organized like a war-time society.

  • 45. zsu  |  April 5th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    @Flite-sim jinkie

    Are you nuts? The Yak38’s first flight was years after the Harrier was introduced. Not only that but the Harrier and the Yak38 had totally different ways of achieving V/STOL (Yak38 using two separate sets of engines while the harrier uses vectored thrust from one engine.)

  • 46. Martin  |  April 19th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I worked on RAF Harriers for several years and served in the Falklands.

    Regarding the Falklands war.

    The Belgrano was an ex US Cruiser not their aircraft carrier and was sunk by a navy sub.

    The British task force carried Sea Harriers for air defence and RAF Harriers for ground attack.

    The main reason for the Sea Harrier success was the sidewinder missile and poor Argentine tactics. It should be noted that the Argentine pilots were excellent pilots, they hit a large number of British ships and sank several, had the arming of their bombs bee better they’d have sunk another 4 British ships probably forcing the British to withdraw.

    On a general note the Harrier that came into service with the RAF back in the late 60’s was a cheap compromise, the RAF had had the excellent TRS-2 cancelled and the government had failed to allow the purchase of the F-111. To keep the RAF happy the government of the day allowed a modified Kestral to come into service as the Harrier GR1.

    It should be noted that Hawkers the original design company had always intended a supersonic version to come into service, in fact the test engine for the supersonic version was built and tested and produced a massive amount of thrust, still using the rotating nozzle system.

    The supersonic version (which had a bigger wing) would have been a much superior aircraft.

    I do agree the F=35 V/STOL version is a piece of shite, I mean a lift fan????????

    The only VTOL system that works is the rotating nozzle system that the Pegasus engine uses.

  • 47. ArmedWombat  |  August 16th, 2012 at 12:45 am

    If you want to know what the Spetsnats would have done to NATO airbases, just take a look a Suvorovs book about them.

    In short: They got this thing called anti-plane-mine, basically a SAM, wired to a sound sensor, that can tell the difference between starting an landig planes. They just place some of these in trees near an air base and leave.
    The mines kill at least one plane before anyone knows what’s going on… and then the searching parties come out. Looking for something they don’t know (maybe don’t even know to look for a pipe in a treetop, but a bunch of soviet soliders hunkering in the dirt)… and just because they find one of them, they for sure can’t know, if they got all of them. So they can either take their time (and render the airstrip useless for that amount of time) or risk another plane.
    Oh, and while they were there, the spetsnats of course left some convenntional land mines, too. All the more fun for the searching parties.

    In that scneario, the Harrier wouldn’t perform that much better than any other aircraft. Well, maybe their VTOL engine could safe them, because the mines are made to identifies conventional starting and landing sounds… but a “maybe” isn’t exactly what you want to build your strategy on.

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