After the success of the Harrier Jump Jet, Sea Harrier was the naval version for the Royal Navy. The strike fighter with short take-off and vertical landing capability to replace the outdated de Havilland Sea Vixen.

Right before P.1127 took off for the first time, engineers at Hawker Aviation prepared a detailed report on the prospects of a vertical short take-off and landing aircraft. P.1127 was a experimental aircraft and the precursor of Hawker Siddeley Harrier, the first vertical short take-off and landing jet fighter-bomber. However, the Royal Navy was not interested in this report.

British Aerospace Sea Harrier Overview

During the Cold War, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm operated de Havilland Sea Vixen, carrier-based fleet air-defence fighters, but they soon became obsolete and the Royal Navy wanted replace them. So on February 8, 1963, the XP831 prototype demonstrated its ability to land on the HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier and showed its superior features.

de Havilland Sea Vixen of the Royal Navy
de Havilland Sea Vixen of the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy had planned to buy the US F-4 Phantom II and build a conventional aircraft carrier like the Forrestal class, but the British government had a different idea, so the plan was canceled in 1966. The idea of the British government was a light aircraft carrier equipped with anti-submarine helicopters, which was the HMS Invicible that was ordered in 1973. Because there were only helicopters, the British Navy wanted to bring the Harrier to the Invicible for air defense, protection of fleets and helicopters.

Hawker developed a version of the Harrier for the Navy, based on the Royal Air Force Harrier GR.1. The new aircraft was called Sea Harrier, and was identified as Sea Harrier FRS1. It first entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980 and became informally known as the “Shar”.

Sea Harrier FRS1
Sea Harrier FRS1

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.

Sea Harrier's special ability
Sea Harrier’s special ability.

The airframe of the FRS1 was similar to Harrier GR.1 to 90%, but avionics were almost completely different. The nose of the Sea Harrier FRS1 has been redesigned, longer and larger to use the Blue Fox radar developed by Ferranti. The Blue Fox can operate in both air-to-air and air-to-ground mode, the information collected is displayed on the screen placed in the cockpit. The aircraft was fitted with UHF communication systems, TACAN tactical air navigation system and multi-channel radio devices. Sea Harrier FRS1 has an automated flight system, holding the aircraft at a fixed altitude, speed and direction.

The aircraft has a heavier weight than Harrier GR.1 due to parts were changed to use corrosion resistant alloys or coatings were added to protect against the marine environment. The Sea Harrier FRS1 has 5 hard points and unlike the Royal Air Force, the aircraft carries AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles like the US AV-8A. The main weapons were still unguided bombs and rockets, but after the 1982 Falkland War, the Sea Harrier FRS1 aircraft were equipped with Martel air-to-surface missiles and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Sea Harriers from HMS INVINCIBLE in flight over the Adriatic during Operation GRAPPLE
Sea Harriers from HMS INVINCIBLE in flight over the Adriatic during Operation GRAPPLE.

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 aircraft 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.

The cockpit of FRS1, the right screen is used to display information from radar Blue Fox
The cockpit of Sea Harrier FRS1, the right screen is used to display information from radar Blue Fox

The Sea Harrier served in the Falklands War, 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, when 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; 2 Sea Harriers were 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.

Radar Doppler Blue Fox
Radar Doppler Blue Fox radar.

Although the British Navy was essentially satisfied with the performance of the Sea Harrier FRS1 during the Falklands War, but conflict pointed to a number of shortcomings. The main problem is the relatively limited ability of the Blue Fox radar. In 1983, the Blue Vixen radar was chosen to replace the Blue Fox, which was described as one of the most advanced pulse doppler radar systems in the world. The new radar gave Sea Harrier the ability to control AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles and ALARM anti-radiation missiles. The modified Sea Harrier FRS1s with the above systems and weapons were named FRS2, later renamed FA2. Sea Harrier FA2 is distinguished from FRS1 in the conical shape containing radar, the main wing was fitted with dogtooth to eliminate air vortex on the wing. The ARI.18233 warning antenna has been replaced by the Marconi Sky Guardian electronic warfare system. Other improvements included an increase to the air-to-air weapons load, look-down radar, increased range, and improved cockpit displays. The 2-seat training version based on Sea Harrier FA2 was identified as Harrier T8.

the FRS1 carries the twin launchers of the AIM-9 Sidewinder
Sea Harrier FRS1 carries the twin launchers of the AIM-9 Sidewinder

The Sea Harrier was marketed for sales abroad, but by 1983 India was the only operator other than Britain after attempts to sell the aircraft to Argentina and Australia were unsuccessful. It was reported that the Indian Navy would replace this aircraft squadron with the Russian MiG-29K. After being removed from service, these aircraft will be taken to various museums in India.

T4N 2-seat training version
Harrier T4N 2-seat training version

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