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GR9 Harrier

By 1 April 2007, Joint Force Harrier (JFH) operated an all Harrier GR9 fleet. The GR9 will be optimised for offensive support operations and be capable of employing the latest smart weapons such as the Brimstone anti-armour weapon. It will be a more capable platform in the offensive role than the GR7. Like the GR7 it will be able to utilise Sidewinder Air to Air missiles. The operational advantages of the GR9 over the GR7 include the capability to employ the latest generation of smart weapons such as Brimstone. There are other advantages too, but these are classified.

The Harrier GR9 is a heavily updated development of the existing GR7, incorporating the ability to use a wide range of advanced precision weaponry, new communications, and systems and airframe upgrades. Integration and clearance of these weapons will allow the RAF to hit a wider range of targets harder, at longer range and with less risk to aircrew.

Alongside the GR9 upgrade program, some aircraft are being fitted with more powerful engines to enable them to perform better in extremely hot climates, which degrade the performance of the existing Pegasus Mk105 turbofan. Aircraft with the improved engine will be designated GR9A. Total projected MoD expenditure on Harrier upgrades, which will be fully realised when the fleet of about 70 aircraft is at GR9 standard, is about £500 million. Under a £100 million contract awarded to BAE Systems in 2004, new digital weapons that will be integrated onto the GR9 will include the advanced Global Positioning System and laser-guided Paveway IV bomb, and infrared and television variants of the Maverick missile to achieve high precision ground attack capabilities.

The aircraft was able to carry up to six Paveway IV bombs, which will be linked by a new onboard computer. The Successor Identification Friend or Foe system will also equip the aircraft, to make it less vulnerable on operations. The aircraft was also fitted to carry the advanced Brimstone fire and forget anti-armour missile. Part of the longer term plans for the aircraft currently include equipping with secure communications, a ground proximity warning system and for training the Rangeless Airborne Instrumentation and Debriefing System (RAIDS). The program also included an upgrade to the two-seater T10 training aircraft to T12, the equivalent of the GR9 standard.

The Harrier GR9 aircraft came into service on October 2006. The first improved aircraft equipped Joint Force Harrier squadrons that was crewed by both Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel, following the withdrawal from service of Royal Navy Sea Harrier aircraft. MoD planned a force of four front-line squadrons and one Operational Conversion Unit. The RAF was expected to supply air and ground crew for two of the front-line squadrons and the RN for the other two while the OCU was jointly crewed.

An Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) was issued in late 2006 for a new pod, resulting in the first AN/AAQ-33 sniper Advanced Targeting Pod being test-flown on a Harrier GR.9 on December 1, 2006. A contract was given to Lockheed Martin to deliver the pod on 26 February 2007, and deliveries were completed by June 2007. Sniper allows the Harrier pilot to detect and identify weapons caches – and even individuals carrying arms – while the aircraft is far enough away for it not to be heard. In early May 2007 IV(AC) squadron became the first RAF unit to train with it, taking it with them when they deployed to Afghanistan again in mid-June.

Harriers used Paveway IIs and Enhanced Paveway (EPW) II and II plus guided munitions, ‘dumb bombs’, AGM-65G-2 Maverick day/night air-to-surface missiles, CRV-7 unguided rockets and AIM-9L sidewinders, for self-defence. The Harrier GR.9 the lead airframe for the Global Positioning System Aided inertial Navigation System (GAINS)/Laserguided Paveway IV, before being cleared for use by the Tornado GR.4 and Typhoon FGR.4.

For anti-armour and high-value battlefield targets, the RAF has the Brimstone Missile, with a millimetre-wave radar seeker for fire-and-forget release. Based on the AGM-114F Hellfire, Brimstone is carried on a three round pylon by the Tornado GR.4, though it is also destined to be adopted by the Harrier GR.9 and Typhoon FGR.4. In addition to close air support, the Harriers undertake non-traditional intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) in Afghanistan to determine enemy activity and provide that information to troops on the ground. Around eleven Harriers were deployed at Kandahar, the force having begun transition from GR.7As to GR.9As in 2007.

The Harrier GR9 was intended to be maintained in service until F-35 JSF was in service. In December 2010 the Harrier aircraft was retired from service. The demise of the Harrier jump jet, culminating in the fleet's sale for parts to the United States in December 2011, marked the irreversible beginning of Britain's carrier strike 'holiday' as set out in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

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Page last modified: 24-05-2014 18:58:04 ZULU