The BAE Systems Sea Harrier is a naval VTOL/STOVL jet fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft, a development of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier. It first entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980 as the Sea Harrier FRS1. The latest version is the Sea Harrier FA2. Informally known as the "Shar", the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in March 2006.
In 1966 the planned CVA-01 class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy were cancelled, apparently ending the Royal Navy's involvement in fixed-wing carrier aviation. However, beginning in the early 1970s, the first of a new class of "through deck cruisers" was planned, carefully named to avoid the term "aircraft carrier" to increase the chances of funding. These ships would eventually become the Invincible class aircraft carriers. With little modification, a 'ski-jump' was added to the end of the 170 m deck, enabling the carriers to operate a small number of V/STOL jets.
The Royal Air Force's Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR1s had entered service in April 1969. In 1975 the Royal Navy ordered 34 Sea Harrier FRS.1s (later FRS1)(Fighter/Reconnaissance/Strike Mk. 1), the first of which entered service in 1978. In total 57 FRS1s were delivered between 1978 and 1988.
The Harrier T4N is not strictly a variant of the Sea Harrier, but is a two-seat naval training version of the Harrier T2. Four Harrier T4N were purchased by the Royal Navy for land-based training. It did not have radar and had a few Sea Harrier instruments, but was used for pilot conversion training for the Sea Harrier FRS1.
Single-seat fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft. The Sea Harrier FRS51 is similar to the FRS1. Unlike the British Sea Harrier, it is fitted with Matra R550 Magic air-to-air missiles. The first of twenty-three FRS51s were delivered to the Indian Navy in 1983.
Lessons learned from the aircraft's performance in the Falklands led to the requirement for an upgrade of the fleet, incorporating increased air-to-air weapons load, look-down radar, increased range, and improved cockpit displays. Approval for an upgrade to FRS.2 standard was given in 1984. First flight of the prototype took place on September 1988 and a contract was signed for 29 upgraded aircraft in December that year, with the upgraded aircraft to be known as the F/A.2 (later FA2). In 1990 the Navy ordered 18 new-build FA2s, at a unit cost of around £12 million, and a further 5 upgrades were ordered in 1994. The Sea Harrier FA2 featured the Blue Vixen radar, which was described as one of the most advanced pulse doppler radar systems in the world. The Blue Vixen formed the basis for development of the Eurofighter Typhoon's CAPTOR radar. The Sea Harrier FA2 carries the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and was the first UK aircraft to be provided with this capability. The first aircraft was delivered on 2 April 1993 and the first operational deployment was in April 1994 as part of the UN force in Bosnia.
The final new-build Sea Harrier FA2 was delivered on 18 January 1999.
The Sea Harrier was largely based on the Harrier GR3, but was modified to have a raised cockpit with a "bubble" canopy (to give better visibility for the air defence role) and an extended forward fuselage to accommodate the Ferranti (now BAE Systems) Blue Fox radar. Parts were changed to use corrosion resistant alloys or coatings were added to protect against the marine environment.
The cockpit in the Sea Harrier includes a conventional centre stick arrangement and left-hand throttle. In addition to normal flight controls, the Harrier has a lever for controlling the direction of the four vectorable nozzles. The nozzles point rearward with the lever in the forward position for horizontal flight. With the lever back, the nozzles point downward for vertical takeoff or landing.
Sea Harriers took part in the Falklands War of 1982, flying from the aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes. The Sea Harriers were to operate in their primary air defence role with a secondary role of ground attack, with the RAF Harrier GR3 providing the main ground attack force. The Sea Harrier squadrons shot down 21 Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat with no air-to-air losses, although two Sea Harriers were lost to ground fire and four to accidents.
A number of factors contributed to the failure of the Argentinian fighters to shoot down a Sea Harrier. Although the Mirage III and Dagger jets were considerably faster, the Sea Harrier was more manoeuvrable. Moreover, the Harrier employed the latest AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles and the Blue Fox radar. The British pilots had superior air-combat training, one manifestation of which was that they noticed Argentinian pilots occasionally releasing weapons outside of their operating parameters.
British aircraft received fighter control from warships in San Carlos Water, although its effectiveness was limited by their being stationed close to the islands, which severely limited the effectiveness of their radar.
Both sides' aircraft were operating in adverse conditions. Argentine aircraft were forced to operate from the mainland because airfields on the Falklands were only suited for propellor-driven transports. In addition, fears partly aroused by the bombing of Port Stanley airport by a British Vulcan bomber added to the Argentinians' decision to operate them from afar. As most Argentine aircraft lacked in-flight refuelling capability, they were forced to operate at the limit of their range. The Sea Harriers also had limited fuel reserves due to the tactical decision to station the British carriers out of Exocet missile range and the dispersal of the fleet. The result was that, although an Argentine aircraft could only allow five minutes over the islands to search and attack an objective and without any capable air-to-air missile, a Sea Harrier could stay near to 30 minutes waiting in the Argentine approach corridors.
The Sea Harriers were outnumbered by the available Argentinian aircraft and were on occasion decoyed away by the activities of the Escuadrón Fénix or civilian jet aircraft used by the Argentine Air Force. They had to operate without a fleet early warning system such as AWACS that would have been available to a full NATO fleet in which the Royal Navy had expected to operate.
The result was that the Sea Harriers could not establish complete air superiority and prevent Argentine attacks during day or night, nor could they stop the daily C-130 Hercules transports' night flights to the islands. A total of six Sea Harriers were lost to either ground fire, accidents or mechanical failure during the war.
It was deployed by the United Kingdom in the 1991–1995 war in Bosnia (part of Yugoslav wars) as a part of the international operations Deny flight, and Deliberate Force directed against Army of Republika Srpska. In 1994 a Sea Harrier of the 801 Naval Air Squadron operating from the light carrier HMS Ark Royal was brought down by a SAM fired by Army of Republika Srpska (most probably Strela 2) while attempting to bomb two Serbian tanks. The pilot, Lieutenant Nick Richardson ejected and landed in the territory controlled by friendly Bosnian Muslims. He later described his experiences in a book titled No Escape Zone.
The Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service in 2006 and the last remaining aircraft from 801 Squadron were decommissioned on 29 March 2006. The plans were announced in 2002 by the Ministry of Defence. The aircraft's replacement, the Lockheed/Northrop/BAE F-35, is not due until 2012 at the earliest. However, the MoD argued that significant expenditure would be required to upgrade the fleet for only six years of service.
Both versions of Harrier experienced reduced engine performance (Pegasus Mk 106 in FA2 - Mk 105 in GR7) in the higher ambient temperatures of the Middle East and this restricted the payloads able to be returned to the carrier decks in 'vertical' recoveries. Typically, in the era of 'Joint Force Harrier' combined operations in such theatres, the GR7 component detached from the carrier approximately two weeks before the Sea Harrier deck operations ceased. This was solely due to the safety factors associated with aircraft "land-on" weights. The natural option to install higher rated Pegasus engines would not be as straightforward as the Harrier GR7 upgrade and would likely be an expensive and slow process. Furthermore, the Sea Harriers were subject to a generally more hostile environment than land-based Harriers, with corrosive salt spray a particular problem. As of March 2006, all Sea Harriers have been retired from service. A number of aircraft have been retained for use by the School of Flight Deck Operations at RNAS Culdrose, and in theory these could be regenerated if needed.
The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm will continue to share the other component of Joint Force Harrier, the Harrier GR7 and the upgraded Harrier GR9 with the RAF, with the two front-line squadrons, 800 NAS re-commissioned in 6 April and 801 NAS are expected to reform in 2007 both using the GR9 by 2007. The projected purchase of around 150 F-35s will be split between the two services and they will operate from the Royal Navy's Future Carrier (CVF).
The Indian Navy is in the process of upgrading up to fifteen Sea Harriers in collaboration with Israel by installing the Elta EL/M-2032 radar and the Rafael 'Derby' medium range air to air missile. This will enable the Sea Harrier to remain in Indian service until beyond 2012, and also see limited service off the new carriers it will acquire by that time frame.
The Indian Navy is currently interested in acquiring up to eight of the Royal Navy's retired Sea Harrier FA2s in order to maintain their operational Sea Harrier fleet. which consists of 13 Pegasus 104-powered Sea Harrier FRS51s. If the deal goes through it will have to involve ongoing support from BAE Systems and Rolls Royce. The sale will not involve the Sea Harrier FA2's Blue Vixen radar, the RWR and the AMRAAM capability. Certain US software will be deleted prior to shipment. With the loss of another Sea Harrier on 24 December 2007 (attempting a vertical landing, pilot ejected to safety), the total number of Sea Harriers with the Indian Navy has fallen to 13. India purchased 30 Sea Harriers in 1983, using 25 of these for operational flying and the remaining to train pilots. Since then seven pilots have died in 17 crashes involving the Sea Harrier and more than half of the fleet is now gone, lost mostly to routine sorties.
The Harrier's unique characteristics have led to it being featured a number of films and video games.