With the Strategic Defence and Security Review about to report,there is much discussion of which fast jets should be retained in service.
A major factor in that discussion is the question of which fast jet is best for supporting ground forces in Afghanistan.
There is another question which is not being asked.
Should we be using fast jets for close air support in Afghanistan at all?
The fast jet sacrifices range and endurance for speed and performance.
Consequently it requires substantial and expensive aerial refuelling to stay in the air for any great length of time.
Even then it's practical endurance is short at least in part due to it's limited weaponload and crew comfort.
This results in large numbers of aircraft being required in theatre.
A fleet of 8 Royal Air Force Tornados has been required to generate just 24 flying hours a day in Afghanistan.
In major warfighting operations the great performance of the fast jet is essential to it's survival and hence the success of it's mission.
However,this performance is not required during counter insurgency operations in permissive airspace.
In such circumstances speed serves only to compensate for the lack of endurance which results in aircraft not being in the right place at the right time.
An aircraft of less speed but great endurance such as the new Nimrod M.R.A.4 would require no aerial refuelling at all.
Nor would it have to return to base so often when it's ordnance is expended as it can carry a substantial internal weapon load with far less effect on it's endurance than a fast jet can.
Just 2 Nimrod M.R.A.4 sorties could provide as many daily flying hours as 6 fast jet sorties.
While those 6 fast jet sorties would impose a substantial aerial refuelling burden,the Nimrods would require no aerial refuelling at all.
Indeed,the Nimrod can do this while operating from bases in Oman,eliminating a significant in country logistical burden.
While it may not be capable of strafing with cannons and rockets,a Nimrod can deliver any guided munition which can be integrated to it.
It can also carry far greater sensor and communication capability than any fast jet.
The large weapon load,adequate speed and very long endurance of maritime patrol aircraft make them well suited to counter insurgency operations.
Consequently such aircraft have been used extensively and successfully in such conflicts in places such as Kenya,Malaya and French Indo-China.
It's 15 hour unrefuelled endurance and 10 tonne weaponload may make the Nimrod Mark 4 the ideal counter insurgency aircraft for current operations in Afghanistan.