Can't resist giving these plates an extra spin or two.
Part the 1st: Tanks - an important point that's been missed in discussion so far: tanks are for taking the offensive. There are plenty of satisfactory defensive ways of defeating the other guy's tanks: with current technology, AT helicopters are #1 choice but these things have their cycles and in future years it may be flocks of cheap light drones.
But for offensive operations in the field you need a good MBT, classically defined by speed & maneouverability + firepower + ability to take a hit from the small and medium stuff that panicky, out-maneouvred defenders will chuck at it. [Mr W's point about protection against radiation is a good one, and he could have added protection against CW as well. These are extensions of the above-specified protection against general battlefield shit.]
Why are tanks needed? have a look at my post of last weekend which, by the way, fairly well predicted what happened last week (*takes bow*) to wit, the Russsians made as much of a grab as they could in a few hours. An armoured grab. Only armour (or helo-mounted heavy infantry) can do this reliably. Paratroops, and heavy APC-mounted infantry can each make a case for being second-choice if they are (a) operating against very, very thin defences and (b) lucky. But the swift, land-based smash-and-grab offensive (and I do mean both smash, and grab) must be spearheaded by tanks, followed through quickly by infantry.
Not surprising that this basic point has been missed because the UK hasn't been thinking in offensive mode for a very, very long time (Kuwait 1991, I'd say, given how poorly we performed in Iraq the second time around). So the answer to BQ's question starts with: are we going on the land-offensive any time soon ? Answers on a postcard ...
BTW, some may be inclined to repy: OK, then why did defence-oriented BAOR have so many MBTs ? There are several answers, of which the 3rd is the most interesting.
(a) armies traditionally prepare to fight the last war instead of the next one. In pre-1989 BAOR, 'Germany' to us meant 1945 = offensive ops;
(b) cavalry always clings to tradition - and is indulged - even more than anyone else;
(c) there were some very attack-minded generals in the NATO of the 1970's and 1980's, surprising though this may sound (US, British and particularly German). I may write another post on this for a quiet weekend.
Part the 2nd: Harriers - SW is of course right to note how difficult and unforgiving they are (were) to fly - even more difficult than helicopters. This is actually a major failing. One of the key principles of armament is: make it robust and (relatively) simple to use & maintain because it needs to be used by ordinary mortals under great stress. Many a "fine weapons system" has surprised its owners (and not in a good way) when failing to meet these criteria.
(One of the worst experiences of my life was watching a Harrier squadron CO fly into a tree on take-off, he did not survive.)
Obviously the RAF and RN made good operational use of the Harrier over the years. In the Falklands it was of course faute de mieux: and I wonder if Woodward might have preferred the old Ark Royal with a full complement of F4s (and Gannet AEWs) ? It's hard to avoid suggesting the Harrier's achievements were against 2nd division opposition. The many BAOR Harrier pilots I knew gave themselves no chance against the SA assets integral to GSFG divisions; and the 3-squadron RAFG 'Harrier Force' was assumed to be reduced to zero effectiveness in under 3 days of all-out combat.
Postscript: SW is absolutely right about RAF / RN rivalry, a death-match that's been running for close on a century now. I went to a dinner last week and had my ear bent for an hour by a sailor on exactly this topic.