As part of a wide-ranging cost and structure review, UK Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has announced the RAF’s fleet of 11 Nimrod MR2 maritime reconnaissance aircraft will be retired by March 2010, two years earlier than planned.
The announcement comes despite the MR2’s replacement, the much delayed and substantially remanufactured and re-engined Nimrod MRA4, not expected to achieve operational capability until 2012, leaving a maritime reconnaissance and search and rescue (SAR) capability gap of at least two years. The MoD has said these capabilities will be covered by Royal Navy ships and Merlin helicopters, and RAF C-130 Hercules in the interim. The small fleet of Nimrod R1 electronic/signals intelligence (ELINT/SIGINT) aircraft will remain in service until replaced early next decade.
Secretary Ainsworth said the decision to bring forward the Nimrod retirement was purely a cost saving measure and had nothing to do with the findings of the Haddon-Cave report into the loss of a Nimrod and its 14 crew members due to a fuel leak over Afghanistan in 2006.