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Development of a much more powerful successor to the first Harrier began in 1973 as a cooperative effort between McDonnell Douglas in the US and Hawker Siddeley (in 1977, its aviation interests were nationalised to form part of British Aerospace) in the UK. Lack of backing from the government for the necessary engine (Pegasus 15) led Hawker to withdraw from that project in 1975. Work continued on a less ambitious successor due to US interest in developing the aircraft. This led to a development of the first Harrier with a larger wing and composite materials in the fuselage. Two prototypes were built from existing aircraft and flew in 1978. The American government was content to continue if a major foreign buyer was found.

Britain had their own development plan to improve the current Harrier with a new larger metal wing. In 1980, the British considered if the American development would meet their needs - their opinion was that it required modification. The MDD wing was then modified to incorporate the leading edge wing extensions of the British design. The agreement between the US and the UK was a British contribution of $280 million USD to cover general and specific development costs for their own needs and a purchase of at least 60 aircraft. Airframe construction would be divided up between MDD and BAE with no overlap. For UK variants, BAE Systems is the prime contractor and Boeing a sub-contractor.

The first new prototype flew in 1981 with production aircraft flying in 1983.

The Harrier II is an extensively modified version of the first generation Harrier GR1/GR3 series which first flew in December 1967. The original aluminium alloy fuselage was replaced by a fuselage which makes extensive use of composites, providing significant weight reduction and increased payload or range. An all-new one-piece wing provides around 14 per cent more area and increased thickness. The UK's version of the Harrier II uses different avionic systems, an additional missile pylon in front of each wing landing gear, and strengthened leading edges of the wings to meet higher bird strike requirements.

The cockpit has day and night operability and is equipped with Head-up display (HUD), head-down display (MHDDs), a digital moving map, an Inertial Navigation System (INS), and a hands-on throttle and stick system (HOTAS). The pilot flies the aircraft by means of a conventional centre stick and left-hand throttle.

In RAF service, Harriers are used in the ground attack and reconnaissance roles. Unlike the Harrier AV8B+ upgrade, the RAF have not installed a radar into its aircraft, although the aircraft retains an Inertial Navigation System. The primary air-to-air missile (AAM) of the Harrier is the infrared-homing AIM-9 Sidewinder (the combination of Harrier and Sidewinder proved effective against Argentinean Mirages in the Falklands conflict), but it does not carry the medium range AIM-120 AMRAAM missile.

With the retirement of the Sea Harrier, it had been suggested that its Blue Vixen radar could be transferred to the GR9 fleet. However, the Ministry of Defence rejected this as risky and too expensive. The Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram estimated that the cost would be in excess of £600 million.

The Harrier GR7 formed the spearhead of the RAF's contribution to Operation Allied Force, the NATO mission in Kosovo. During this campaign the RAF identified significant shortcomings in its arsenal. As a result the service ordered the AGM-65 Maverick stand-off missile and the Enhanced Paveway which incorporates GPS guidance which would negate the effects of smoke and bad weather. Using updated ordnance as well as unguided iron and cluster munitions, RAF Harrier GR7s played a prominent role in Operation Telic, the UK contribution to the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003. RAF GR7s participated in strike and close air support missions throughout the conflict.

On 14 October 2005 a RAF Harrier GR7A was destroyed and another was damaged in a rocket attack by Taliban forces while parked on the tarmac at Kandahar in Afghanistan. No one was injured in the attack. The damaged Harrier was repaired, while the destroyed one was replaced by another aircraft.

The first operational deployment of the Harrier GR9 was in January 2007 at Kandahar in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Harrier GR7s were deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 as part of the expanded ISAF mission in the south of Afghanistan. Reflecting the increased pace of operations, RAF Harrier GR7As saw a large increase in munitions used, mainly CRV7 rockets and laser guided bombs, used in supporting ground forces since July 2006. Between July and September, the theatre total for munitions deployed by British Harriers on planned operations and close air support to ground forces rose from 179 to 539.

On one occasion, a Parachute Regiment major commanding an isolated outpost described the Harrier's gun-less air support as "utterly, utterly useless".

With the withdrawal of the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier in 2006, the RAF's Harrier fleet is tasked with the missions that it used to share with those aircraft. In 2006, the GR9 also entered service with the Fleet Air Arm when the first former Sea Harrier squadron reformed. The GR9 is expected to stay in service at least until 2018, when the first F-35s are due. At this point, the Joint Strike Fighter should be gaining operational capability.

On 15 December 2009, the Ministry of Defence announced that RAF Cottesmore will close and the Harrier GR9 fleet will be cut to three squadrons, they will move to nearby RAF Wittering. This is because of defence cuts and the need for funding for 22 new Chinook helicopters and ongoing projects such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the new 65,000 ton aircraft carriers. The Harrier GR9 fleet is expected to be phased out earlier than planned, some say around 2013. The aircraft will be replaced by the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35B, which will be at the early stages of delivery to the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.


Technical Specifications



1× Rolls-Royce Pegasus Mk. 105 vectored thrust turbofan, 21,750 lb (96.7 kN)



Length: 46 ft 4 in (14.12 m) Wingspan: 30 ft 4 in (9.25 m) Height: 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m) Wing area: 343 ft² (22.6 m²)



Empty weight: 12,500 lb (5,700 kg) Loaded weight: 15,703 lb (7,123 kg) Max takeoff weight: 18,950 lb VTO, 31,000 lb STO [11] (8,595 kg VTO, 14,061 kg STO)



Maximum speed: 662 mph (1,065 km/h); Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)



Guns: 2× 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon pods under the fuselage (no longer fitted) Hardpoints: 8 (under-wing pylon stations 1A & 7A are intended for air-to-air missiles only) with a capacity of 8,000 lb (3,650 kg) of payload and provisions to carry combinations of: Rockets: 4× LAU-5003 rocket pods (19× CRV7 70 mm rockets each) or 4× Matra rocket pods (18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each) Missiles: 6× AIM-9 Sidewinders; or 6× AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles or 4× AGM-65 Maverick or 6× Brimstone air-to-ground missiles Bombs: ordnance such as Paveway series of laser-guided bombs, unguided iron bombs (including 3 kg and 14 kg practice bombs)  Other: 2× auxiliary drop tanks or reconnaissance pods (such as the Joint Reconnaissance Pod).


Role: Close Air Support (CAS), Ground Attack
Bae Systems, Boeing

Variants: AV-8A, AV-8B, GR.3, GR.7, GR.9, FA.2, T2
Operators: Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Italian Navy, United States Marine Corps, Spanish Navy