BAE Sea Harrier

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BAE Sea Harrier FA2
Missing image
Sea Harrier FA2

RoleAir defence/surface attack/reconnaissance
First flight(FRS1): August 20 1978
(F/A.2): September 19 1988
Entered service1993
ManufacturerBAE Systems
Length17.2 m46 ft 6 in
Wingspan7.6 m25 ft 3 in
Height3.71 m12 ft 4 in
Wing area18.68 m²201.1 ft²
Empty6,374 kg14,052 lb
Maximum takeoff11,884 kg26,200 lb
Engines1 x Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan
Dry thrust 95.64 kN21,500 lbf
Maximum speedkm/h mph
Combat range1,000 km540 nautical miles
Ferry range3,330 km1,800 nautical miles
Service ceiling 15,545 m 51,000 ft 51,000 ft
Rate of climb15,240 m/min50,000 ft/min
Wing loading kg/m² lb/ft²
Thrust/weightN/kg (empty)
Power/mass W/kg hp/lb
Guns2 x 30 mm Aden gun pods
BombsWE177 (Withdrawn 1992)
MissilesAIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, ALARM, Sea Eagle

See also Hawker Siddeley Harrier

The BAE Systems Harrier FA2 is the latest development of the Sea Harrier fighter/attack aircraft which entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980.

In 1966 the planned CVA-01 class aircraft carriers 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, the carriers could operate a small number of STOVL jets.


FRS.Mk 1

The RAF's Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR1s had entered service in April 1969. In 1975 the Royal Navy ordered 34 Sea Harrier FRS.1s, the first of which entered service in 1978. In total 57 FRS.1s were delivered between 1978 and 1988. The FRS.1 was largely based on the Harrier GR.3, but was modified to have a "bubble" canopy (for the air defence role) and an extended forward fuselage to accommodate the Ferranti (now BAE SYSTEMS) Blue Fox radar. The Sea Harriers and HMS Invincible, commissioned on July 11 1980, were operational during the Falklands War of 1982. The Sea Harriers were to operate in their primary air defence role, with the Harrier GR.3 expected to act as attrition replacements for the Sea Harriers. However the Sea Harriers claimed 24 kills with no losses in air combat (two were destroyed in a mid-air collision) and the RAF fleet was free to operate in their primary ground attack role.

FRS.Mk 51

India purchased 24 Sea Harrier FRS.51s, a version of FRS.1, 23 of which remain in service.


Lessons learned from the aircraft's performance in the Falklands lead to the requirement for an upgrade of the fleet, incorporating;

  • Increased air-to-air weapons load
  • Look-down radar
  • Increased range
  • 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 FA2. In 1990 the Navy ordered 18 new-build FA2s and a further 5 upgrades were ordered in 1994. The FA2 features the Blue Vixen radar which is described as one of the most advanced pulse doppler radars in the world. The Blue Vixen formed the basis for the Typhoon's CAPTOR radar. The FA2 carries the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The first aircraft was delivered on April 2 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 January 18 1999.


In 2002 the Ministry of Defence announced plans to withdraw the Sea Harrier from service by 2006. The aircraft's replacement, the Lockheed/Northrop/BAE F-35, is not due until 2012 at the earliest however the MoD argues that significant expenditure would be required to upgrade the fleet for only six years service.

This would seem to ignore the fact that the youngest Harrier only joined the Navy in 1999. However, unlike the largely composite RAF Harriers, the FA2's are almost all metal. This increased weight and lack of thrust from the engine restrict operational use of the Sea Harrier, for example FA2s often have to drop unexpended weapons in the sea before landing, particularly in hot climates. The natural option to install higher rated Pegasus engines would not be as straight forward as the Harrier GR7 upgrade and would likely be an expensive and slow process.

Opponents have argued that the loss of the Sea Harrier would leave the Royal Navy without effective air-defence capability for too long. The MoD argues that the Type 45 destroyer, due to enter service by the end of the decade will provide sufficient AAW capability. 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. 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 upto 15 SeaHarriers with Israel by installing the Elta EL/M-2032 radar & the Rafael 'Derby' medium range air to air missile.This will enable the Sea Harrier to remain in Indian service till beyond 2012 & also see limited service off the new carriers the IN will acquire by that time frame.

Hawker Siddeley Harrier - BAE Sea Harrier - RAF Harrier II - AV-8B Harrier II

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