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The Nimrod AEW Saga

Nimrod AEW Mk3
XZ286
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Although 8 Sqn did not fly the Nimrod AEW Mk 3, its development and eventual cancellation directly affected all on the Squadron.  As we have seen, the Shackleton AEW Mk 2 was meant to be an interim solution until a modern AEW aircraft arrived in service.  The fact that the Shackleton AEW remained in service for over 20 years shows the problems faced by procurement.

In 1974, the Government failed to agree financial terms with the rest of NATO who were going to buy 24 American built Boeing E-3As for a multi-national NATO AEW force which was to be based in the UK.  Once Britain left the NATO project, plans for the E-3A base changed to Geilenkirchen in West Germany where it currently operates 17 aircraft.

Comms Operator Position
Nimrod AEW Mk 3, November 1986
(Author’s Collection)
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Therefore, 11 Nimrod AEW Mk3 aircraft were ordered from British Aerospace/GEC to provide AEW for the RAF and RN.  They were expected to be in service by 1982.  In anticipation of the imminent arrival of the Nimrod, 8 Sqn was halved in size in mid 1981 (the John Nott defence review).  Only 6 crews remained together with 6 aircraft.  It is unfortunate that the Squadron learned of this cut on the BBC 6 o’'clock evening news!  However, problems with the development of the Nimrod AEW led to delay after delay and an increase in cost.  The Shackletons of 8 Squadron were extended and extended: this led to much heartache in Lossiemouth – uncertainty together with cancelled postings did little for Squadron morale.

Nimrod AEW Mk 3
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Finally the Government lost patience and the AEW contract was resubmitted for tender during the early summer of 1986.  Candidates for the new contract included the following aircraft: Grumman E-2C “Hawkeye”; a P-3 with the Hawkeye radar; an Airship Industries bid; the Nimrod AEW, and the Boeing E-3A.  Eventually most the contenders were eliminated because they did not reach specification, and in autumn both the Nimrod AEW and the E-3A were tested against a common datum.

Mission Crew Positions
Nimrod AEW Mk3 (Author’s Collection)
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In December 1986, the Government announced that the contact was to be awarded to Boeing to build the UK AEW aircraft.  Modifications to the E-3A, in order to bring the system up to UK specification, gave rise to the E-3D Sentry AEW Mk 1.  Seven of these aircraft, (together with four E-3F aircraft for the French Air Force), were built at a cost approaching 1 billion US dollars, and it was not until 1991 that 8 Sqn was finally re-equipped with a modern capable AEW platform.