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GR7 Harrier

The Harrier GR7 was optimised for offensive support operations, but possessed an air defence capability through its Sidewinder Air to Air missiles. The first Harriers entered RAF service in 1969, making the RAF the first in the world to use its revolutionary vertical take-off and landing abilities, which allow the aircraft to fly in and out of areas close to the battlefield that would normally be off-limits to conventional aircraft such as the Tornado.

The GR7A waas been fitted with a more powerful engine. Key improvements introduced with the GR7 included forward-looking infrared systems, which when used with pilot's night-vision goggles, provide the capability for night-time operations. The aircraft is largely constructed of composite materials and can carry twice the ordnance load of the early model Harriers it succeeded in service.

The GR7 is, in essence, a licence-built American-designed AV-8B Harrier II fitted with RAF-specific navigation and defensive systems as well as other changes including additional underwing pylons for Sidewinder missiles. The improved design of the GR7 allows the aircraft to carry twice the load of a GR3 over the same distance or the same load twice the distance. First flight of the Harrier GR7 was in 1989, and deliveries to RAF squadrons began in 1990. A total of 96 aircraft were ordered, including 62 interim GR5s which were later modified to GR7 standard.

At one time fully operational with three front line squadrons and the Operational Conversion Unit, the aircraft carried forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) equipment which, when used in conjunction with the pilot's night vision goggles (NVGs), provides a night, low level capability. Although optimised for low level operations at subsonic speeds, the Harrier is also ideally suited to medium level operations where it utilises its highly accurate angle rate bombing system (ARBS) which employs a TV and laser dual mode tracker (DMT). Despite the inclusion of state-of-the-art technology, the Harrier remained a highly versatile aircraft and can easily be deployed to remote forward operating locations and this capablility is regularly practiced during exercises.

Operational deployments for the GR7 Harriers have been to Italy in support of NATO and UN operations in Bosnia and Serbia, and to the Gulf embarked on Royal Navy aircraft carriers. This type of joint deployment, something that will become more commomplace in future operations, resulted in the creation of Joint Force Harrier.

The aircraft are usually employed in direct support of ground troops tackling such targets as enemy troop positions, tanks and artillery. The Harrier uses a variety of weapons such as Paveway Laser and Global Positioning System-guided bombs against buildings, Maverick infrared missiles against tanks, cluster munitions and general purpose free-fall bombs. When required, the Harrier can also be equipped with a pod fitted with cameras to provide reconnaissance of the target and battle areas. For self-defence the aircraft can be fitted with the AIM-9L Sidewinder infrared guided missile.

After the fall of Kabul in Afghanistan in November 2001, the number of British forces in the country increased dramatically, to support the international security Assistance Force (ISAF). Since 2004 Harriers of the Joint Force Harrier (JFH), which comprises the RAFs 1(F) and IV(AC) squadrons and the Royal Navys 800 Naval Air squadron (NAS), were deployed to the country to support the troops on the ground, fighting a resurgent Taliban and other militant forces.

Early operations involved scaring away the enemy with jet noise, but the tempo rose when British troops went into Helmand province in early 2006. Over 500 bombs were dropped by IV(AC) squadron between May and October 2006 during its second four-and-a-half month deployment in the country.

Up to August 2006, mainly day time missions had been flown, but 24-hour availability became necessary as the fighting intensified, resulting in an increase in squadron personnel deployed to Kandahar. the number of Harriers at Kandahar was increased to seven as flying hours doubled to around 480 a month. As well as 16 pilots, around 125 engineers and technicians and all the squadrons Ops personnel were in Afghanistan. Maintenance crews worked hard, undertaking 12-hour shifts day and night for ten days at a time.

In order to self-designate targets, the Harriers initially used the BAE systems (GEC Marconi) TIALD (Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator) pod. TIALD is a second-generation designator pod equipped with a high resolution FLIR (forward-looking infra-red) and a laser designator that automatically tracks the target once it has locked on. Operation Herrick highlighted the shortfalls of the TIALD pod, especially in the urban close air support role. its resolution is low, making it difficult to distinguish between coalition troops and the enemy.






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