by Staff Writers
London (AFP) Dec 15, 2010
Britain's Harrier jets took their final flight Wednesday before the 16-strong fleet is axed as part of spending cuts intended to help reduce a record budget deficit.
The decision to scrap the iconic military planes, and to send the Ark Royal carrier that hosts them into early retirement, means the Royal Navy will be left without the ability to launch aircraft at sea for a decade.
The distinctive grey Harriers took off from the Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Cottesmore in central England, completing a fly-past of several air stations before landing for the last time.
The aircraft were first built in 1960 and entered into service with the RAF in 1969, becoming famous for their ability to take off and land vertically and to hover above the ground.
The Harriers played a key role in Britain's victory over Argentina in the 1982 war in the Falklands.
Ministers hope to save about 900 million pounds (1.4 million dollars, 1.1 million euros) in the next eight years by axing the jets, according to reports, as part of a major tightening of the military budget.
The HMS Ark Royal, Britain's flagship aircraft carrier, was retired this month and will not be replaced until the newly-built Queen Elizabeth carrier comes into force in 2020, when it will carry Joint Strike Fighter jets.
Former military chiefs have strongly criticised the decision to retire the Harriers, writing in a letter to The Times newspaper last month that the move was "strategically and financially perverse."
The British government unveiled the plans in October as part of a sweeping defence review which also included proposals to scrap 17,000 service personnel from the army, navy and air force by 2015.
The Ministry of Defence is facing cuts to its budget of eight percent over the next five years.
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