• Multi-role combat aircraft capable of vertical/short take off and landing.
• Part of Joint Force Harrier, operating from land bases or aircraft carriers.
• Comprehensive weapons capability including bombs, rockets or missile.
• Can operate at night, at low level, using night vision goggles.
• Cockpit gives navigation and weapons information on colour displays.
The Harrier GR7 is a single seat, multi-role combat aircraft that is capable of operating in extreme environments and from a wide selection of locations, including deployed air bases and aircraft carriers.
|Engine||Rolls Royce Pegasus Mk 105 vectored thrust turbofan. Thrust 21,750 lbs.|
|Weight||Max STO 14,061 kg
Max VTO 8,595 kg
|Max Speed||575 kts (661mph)|
|Weapons||The Harrier can carry the following weapons:
Paveway laser guided bombs, CRV-7 rockets, Maverick missiles, 1000 lb bombs, 540 lb bombs, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles
Following the retirement of the Sea Harrier, the Fleet Air Arm commenced operations with the Harrier GR7 and GR9 aircraft, within the framework of Joint Force Harrier (JFH) based at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. JFH is a robust organisation that provides the necessary support and expertise for the Harrier, and acts as a parent for the UK’s three front line Harrier Squadrons: Naval Strike Wing, No1 (F) Sqn RAF and NoIV (AC) Sqn RAF .
The aircraft itself is a very different beast from the Sea Harrier. The GR7 is considerably more advanced in terms of construction, powerplant and avionics. Its cockpit ergonomics are also a vast improvement on the old Sea jet. The GR9 builds on the GR7’s strengths, introducing further avionics upgrades that aid the aircrafts overall capability. Of note, the GR7 and GR9 are not fighters! Although more than capable of looking after themselves, the aircraft are optimised for the close air support and strike roles and do not possess either a radar, or an integrated long-range air-to-air capability, they do however retain a high degree of flexibility that lends itself well to the current threat environment within which the Royal Navy is required to operate. The unique performance characteristics of the Harrier allows continued operation from both ashore and afloat utilising existing platforms and infrastructure, and providing a bridge in capability pending the entry into service of the Joint Strike Fighter during the next decade.
Since NSW’s formation the programme has been full and diverse. Spring 2007 saw operations from HMS Illustrious in the North Sea and Baltic, while summer witnessed an intense period of UK based training in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan in the autumn.
NSW deployed to Afghanistan in early October 2007, official taking over from IV (AC) Sqn on the 5th October. Working from a fixed (and now well-established) base at Kandahar Airfield (KAF), NSW contributes directly to international air component that supports the operations of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Although capable of supporting tasks throughout the nation, the majority of sorties tend to be within the area of Regional Command South, with many directly supporting British Forces deployed in Helmand Province.
Settling into the routine of Operation HERRICK was helped by a good handover by IV(AC) Sqn, which enabled NSW’s personnel adapt quickly to their new environment. KAF provides a well equipped and, given the circumstances, a surprisingly comfortable base for the Wing. Facilities are such that all but the most complex engineering tasks can be undertaken, a factor that is underpinned by a robust and efficient logistics chain. In terms of living conditions, both accommodation and catering are of a high standard, while in addition to the basic provision, welfare facilities are considerably enhanced by the presence of shops (both NAFFI and international variants), and several coffee and fast food outlets which add welcome variety.
The tasking undertaken by NSW is varied and is usually generated by the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC), which oversees the overall air picture within Theatre. In general, NSW are tasked with the provision of aircraft to meet a designated number of sorties per day. Standard tasking consists of mostly Close Air Support, or Tactical Reconnaissance, with a number of aircraft kept at high readiness to respond to events as required – this latter role is simply termed Ground Close Air Support or GCAS.
Since October, the squadron has flown over 200 missions, and has been required to use the complete range of weapons at our disposal in support of ground forces. In addition to kinetic action, where bombs have actually been dropped, they have been used for numerous non-kinetic deterrent activities usually flying very fast and very low.
From the aircrew perspective, the flying environment is stimulating. Afghanistan has a diverse landscape, ranging from barren featureless desert, through to impressive mountain ranges, often dissected by lush green valleys. To this, one has to add the threat posed by the various insurgent elements found throughout the country Then there is the international dimension. NSW is not alone in the provision of air cover to ISAF; there are elements from the United States, the Netherlands and France, organised by multi-national command and control. Through a combination of professionalism and hard work, the system works – but still demands constant presence of mind.
Now three months into the tour, NSW has fully established itself and has continued to promote and build upon the positive reputation earned by the Harrier Force within Afghanistan. A series of high profile operations has ensured the service offered by the aircraft has been very much in demand, as indeed it will be for the foreseeable future. Direct feedback from the ground forces comes in many forms, but one of the most welcome is by visits from the Joint Tactical Air Controllers, the people embedded with the ground forces who call in the air support.
2008 will bring its own challenges and will be equally as busy as 2007. However, with morale high and a positive approach by all, NSW looks forward to delivering air power both from sea and land, and meeting the unique challenges that both environments present.
An added level to the layered air defence will be provided by the new Type 45 Destroyer equipped with the sophisticated and lethal Principal Anti Air Missile System (PAAMS) which is capable of controlling several missiles in the air at any one time, each one of which could engage individual targets, preventing attackers from swamping the fleet's air defences.
It is intended that the Harrier force be completely replaced by the Future Joint Combat Aircraft (FJCA) also referred to as the Joint Strike Fighter which is due to enter service in 2012 and be operated from the Royal Navy's Future Aircraft Carriers (CVF).