The British Aerospace Sea Harrier is a naval short take-off and vertical-landing/vertical take-off and landing 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 and became informally known as the "Shar". Unusual in an era in which most naval and land-based air superiority fighters were large and supersonic, the principal role of the subsonic Sea Harrier was to provide air defence of the fleet from Royal Navy aircraft carriers.
The Sea Harrier served in the Falklands War, both of the Gulf Wars, and the Balkans conflicts; on all occasions it mainly operated from aircraft carriers positioned within the conflict zone. Its usage in the Falklands War was its most high profile and important success, where it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force. The Sea Harriers shot down 20 enemy aircraft during the conflict with one lost to enemy ground fire. They were also used to launch ground attacks in the same manner as the Harriers operated by the Royal Air Force.
The Sea Harrier was marketed for sales abroad, but by 1983 India was the only operator other than Britain after sales to Argentina and Australia were unsuccessful. A second, updated version for the Royal Navy was made in 1993 as the Sea Harrier FA2, improving its air to air abilities and weapons compatibilities, along with a more powerful engine; this version continued manufacture until 1998. The aircraft was withdrawn early from Royal Navy service in March 2006 and replaced in the short term by the Harrier GR9, now itself retired, although the intended long term replacement is Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. The Sea Harrier is in active use in the Indian Navy, although it will eventually be replaced by the Mikoyan MiG-29K. Although withdrawn from active Royal Navy service, Sea Harriers are used to train naval aircraft handlers at the Royal Navy School of Flight Deck Operations.
In the post-war era, the Royal Navy began contracting in parallel with the break-up of the British Empire overseas and the emergence of the Commonwealth of Nations, reducing the need for a larger navy. By 1960 the last battleship, HMS Vanguard, was retired from the Navy, having been in service for less than fifteen years. Perhaps the biggest sign of the new trend towards naval austerity came in 1966, when the planned CVA-01 class of large aircraft carriers destined for the Royal Navy was cancelled; apparently ending the Navy's involvement in fixed-wing carrier aviation as World War II era carriers were slowly retired one by one. During this time requirements within the Royal Navy began to form for a vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) carrier-based interceptor to replace the de Havilland Sea Vixen. Afterward the first V/STOL tests on a ship began with a Hawker Siddeley P.1127 landing on HMS Ark Royal in 1963.
A second concept for the future of naval aviation emerged in the early 1970s as the first of a new class of "through deck cruisers" was planned. These were very carefully and politically designated as cruisers to deliberately avoid the term "aircraft carrier", in order to increase the chances of funding from a hostile political climate against expensive capital ships, they were considerably smaller than the previously sought CVA-01. These ships were ordered as the Invincible class in 1973, and are now popularly recognised as aircraft carriers. Almost immediately upon their construction, a ski-jump was added to the end of the 170-metre deck, enabling the carriers to effectively operate a small number of V/STOL jets. The Royal Air Force's Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR1s had entered service in April 1969. A navalised variant of the Harrier was developed by Hawker Siddeley to serve on the upcoming ships, this became the Sea Harrier. In 1975 the Royal Navy ordered 24 Sea Harrier FRS.1 (standing for 'Fighter, Reconnaissance, Strike') aircraft, the first of which entered service in 1978. During this time Hawker Siddeley became part of British Aerospace through nationalisation in 1977. By the time the prototype Sea Harrier was flown at Dunsfold on 20 August 1978 the order had been increased to 34. The Sea Harrier was declared operational in 1981 on board the first Invincible class ship HMS Invincible, and further aircraft joined the ageing HMS Hermes aircraft carrier later that year.
Following their key role in the 1982 Falklands War, several lessons were learned from the aircraft's performance, which led to approval for an upgrade of the fleet to FRS.2 (later known as FA2) standard to be given in 1984. The first flight of the prototype took place in September 1988 and a contract was signed for 29 upgraded aircraft in December that year. In 1990 the Navy ordered 18 new-build FA2s, at a unit cost of around £12 million, four further upgraded aircraft were ordered in 1994. The first aircraft was delivered on 2 April 1993.
Sea Harrier FA2 ZA195 (upgrade) vector thrust nozzle – distinguishing feature of the jump jet
Locations of the four nozzles on the aircraft.
The Sea Harrier is a subsonic aircraft designed to fill strike, reconnaissance and fighter roles. It features a single Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine with two intakes and four vectorable nozzles. It has two landing gear on the fuselage and two outrigger landing gear on the wings. The Sea Harrier is equipped with four wing and three fuselage pylons for carrying weapons and external fuel tanks. Use of the ski jump allowed the aircraft to take off from a short flight deck with a heavier loadout than otherwise possible, although it can also take off like a conventional loaded fighter without thrust vectoring from a normal airport runway.
The Sea Harrier was largely based on the Harrier GR3, but was modified to have a raised cockpit with a "bubble" canopy for greater visibility, and an extended forward fuselage to accommodate the Ferranti Blue Fox radar. Parts were changed to use corrosion resistant alloys or coatings were added to protect against the marine environment. After the Falklands War, the Sea Harrier was fitted with the new anti-ship Sea Eagle missile.
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 Fox radar was seen be some critics as having comparatively low performance for what was available at the time of procurement. The Blue Vixen formed the basis for development of the Eurofighter Typhoon's CAPTOR radar. The Sea Harrier FA2 also carried the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, the first UK aircraft to be provided with this capability. An upgraded model of the Pegasus engine, the Pegasus Mk 106, was used in the Sea Harrier FA2; in response to the threat of radar-based anti aircraft weapons electronic countermeasures were added. Other improvements included an increase to the air-to-air weapons load, look-down radar, increased range, and improved cockpit displays.
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. The usefulness of the vertical landing capability of the Sea Harrier was demonstrated in an incident on 6 June 1983, when Sub Lieutenant Ian Watson lost contact with the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and had to land Sea Harrier ZA176 on the foredeck of the Spanish cargo ship Alraigo.
In 2005, although already timetabled to be retired, a Sea Harrier was modified with an 'Autoland' system to allow the fighter to perform a safe vertical landing without any pilot interaction. Despite the pitching of a ship posing a natural problem, the system was designed to be aware of such data, and successfully performed a landing at sea in May 2005.