On Oct. 27, 2011, with a ceremony at Grottaglie airbase, near Taranto, the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Harrier in Italian service. The AV-8B+ Harriers of the I GrupAer have recently taken part to the Operation Unified Protector in Libya, performing both DCA (Defensive Counter Air) and BAI (Battlefield Air Interdiction) out of the Garibaldi aircraft carrier.
Above images courtesy of the Marina Militare
When I tweeted the news of the 20th anniversary on Twitter, many of my followers replied with comments dealing with the much criticised British Strategic Defense and Security Review that, more or less one year ago, scrapped the entire “Jump Jet” fleet, leaving the UK with no aircraft to equip aircraft carriers (hence, with no maritime strike capability) until 2020.
With the SDSR, the UK reduced its planned buy of F-35s and abandoned the F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) version of the JSF for the carrier variant F-35C. The abandonment of the F-35B is tied to the decision to convert one of the two future British aircraft carriers in a “cat and trap” supercarrier, hence able to launch the planes by means of a catapult and to recover them by means of an arresting gear system.
According to the current plans, the ItAF will be equipped with both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B STOVL variant, while the Italian Navy will procure only the STOVL version for its current and future aircraft carriers. However, in spite of the current trials at sea, the future of the F-35B is quite uncertain and there is still a possibility that the Marina Militare will have to opt for a “Plan B” if the STOVL version will be scrapped at the end of the 2-year probation announced by former US Sec Def Robert Gates on Jan. 6, 2011.
What about purchasing some retired-but-still-perfectly-airworthy RAF Harrier GR9s before they are all sold for spares? The Italian Navy would lose the air defense capability (since the GR9 is an air-to-ground combat plane) but it will retain a jet plane capable to operate from its aircraft carriers in the strike and CAS (Close Air Support) roles.
I’d start negotiating a trade-in price….:-)
Last RAF/RN Harrier GR9 operational flight took place at RAF Cottesmore on Dec. 15, 2010. The following video is the best I’ve seen so far about the Jump Jet farewell flight.