Cobra AV-8B Harrier II-PLUS / SNUG
The 9th Aircraft Squadron is the only Spanish Navy fixed-wing fighter squadron. The VSTOL 'Harrier' fighter Unit was set up more than 30 years ago. The 9th Aircraft Squadron is the present and future of the combat air naval aviation. Eight II-PLUS aircraft were procured and five AV-8Bs upgraded. The remaining 4 were upgraded to the SNUG version. The Spanish Navy also procured a TAV-8B double-seat advanced trainer. The Squadron is at the height of its operational activity. The variety of aircraft versions allows for different missions in many theatres both, ashore or from the aircraft-carrier ‘Príncipe de Asturias’ or LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’. The 9th Aircraft Squadron is part of the Spanish Navy Air Flotilla with base in Rota Naval Base (Cádiz).
This Aircraft Squadron is very versatile and can participate in many missions:
- Combat Air Patrols (CAP) defending a Naval Task Group.
- Armed reconnaissance and attacks against land and sea targets with an assortment of weapons.
- Close Air Support (CAS) of deployed forces on land.
- Capability to operate from carriers and carrier-type ships as well as from forward bases.
- In-flight refueling capability for prolonged missions.
- Helicopter escort.
- Training of new pilots.
- Maintenance tasks.
The Harrier II PLUS has a totally redesigned and larger fuselage. New wing fuel tanks were incorporated and Rolls-Royce F402-RR-408 engines installed. The plane has carbon-fiber composite leading edge root extensions wings (LERX).
However, the main feature is the nose with its state-of-the-art AN/APG-65 pulse Doppler radar with different configurations: air-air, air-surface with an advanced multi-mode, all-weather, day and night system.
The Harrier II is also used as a defense fighter thanks to its ‘Sidewinder’ and AMRAAM missiles. The nose is equipped with an AN/AAR-51 forward looking infrared device which displays IR images on the head up display (HUD) or cockpit displays. For night missions, the pilot has AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles compatible with flight instruments.
Although the internal fuel capacity was enlarged for STOL operations from carriers, the AV-8Bs are fitted with pods under the wings for external fuel tanks to increase endurance and range. They are also equipped with a retractable inflight refueling probe.
In October 1972 the Spanish Navy took a step forward integrating into the Harrier V/STOL program developed by Hawker Siddeley. The Test Pilots Chief, John Farley flew from Dunsfold airfield and landed on the ‘Dédalo’ sailing off Barcelona. The exhibition was a success and paved the way for further trials that concluded with the decision to enhance Spanish Navy capabilities with the procurement of this type of fixed-wing aircraft. In 1987 12 AV-8B were procured and formed the core of the 9th Squadron. The first three units arrived on October 6th 1987 and were dubbed ‘Cobras’. In 1996 and 1997 8 further ‘Harrier’ II PLUS were built by Construcciones Aeronáuticas S.A. To this end, several technicians from the manufacturer (McDonnell Douglas) establish themselves in Seville to start a joint venture to co-build the fighters in Saint Louis, Missouri and Seville for final assembly.
The Spanish Navy intends to continue upgrading its ‘Harrier’ squadron with better versions in order to keep this valuable tactical asset fully operational.
Spanish Navy was identified by Lockheed Martin officials as one of the possible buyers in presentations to the industry in 2007. The presentation mentions also a start of the acquisition process in 2011 with Letter of Acceptance procedure in 2013 and contract finalising early 2014. First F-35Bs would be delivered in 2016. Spain was seen as an inevitable F-35B customer for the simple reason the Navy is a Harrier operator. And indeed, around 2000 Rear Admiral Craig Steidle of the JPO briefed the Spanish Navy about the capabilities. All this started slowly and by 2015 seemed to have ground to a halt in the face of the financil crisis.
In 2010, the Spanish Navy headquarters announced that it intended to procure 15 to 20 of the F-35B aircraft. The F-35B was intended to replace the Harrier fighters however a 70-million euro plan to extend the Harrier service life beyond 2025 was announced 23 May 2015. With an outlay of 70 million Euros-spread over ten years, Spain gained the equipment and spare parts necessary to ensure that their fleet of AV-8B Harrier Plus fighters continue flying beyond 2025.
By 2018 the Spanish Navy managed a calendar by which its 12 Harrier AV-8B fighters and the thirteenth training could extend its operational life until 2030. This was presented by Admiral Chief of Staff of the Navy, Admiral Teodoro López Calderón, in a January 2018 meeting held with journalists. In this way, the current "Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to Support the Life Cycle of the Harrier AV-8B Plus Program" approved by the Council of Ministers in November 2014 and with a duration of up to 2024 could be extended for another two years. Then there could be a last phase of the program that the Navy called "unilateral extension of life."
Characteristics of the AV-8B HARRIER II PLUS
|EMPTY WEIGHT||6,336 kgs.|
|MAX. TAKEOFF WEIGHT||14,061 kgs.|
|MAX. TAKEOFF WEIGHT (Short Takeoff)||8,596 kgs.|
|WING SURFACE||22.18 m²|
|3,600 kms. (with two auxiliary tanks under the wings)|
|COMBAT RANGE||870 kms.|
|WEAPONS||Free fall bombs: Mk-82, Mk-83 and Mk-84|
25 mm 12 barrel GAU gun
|AGM-65 ‘Maverick’ air-to-ground missiles|
GBU-12 and GBU-16 laser guided bombs
GBU-38 GPS guided bombs
AIM-9L ‘Sidewinder’ missiles
|AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles|
|SENSORS||AN/APG-65 radar; FLIR AN/AAR-51, night vision goggles,|
|AN/AVS-9 ANVIS, laser pods, ALE-39 decoy launcher,|
|AN/ALQ-167 ‘Sander’ electronic jammer.|
|MAX. SPEED||1,065 kms/h at sea level.|
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