The British Aerospace Sea Harrier is a naval VTOL/STOVL jet fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft, a development of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier. It first entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980 as the Sea Harrier FRS1 and became informally known as the "Shar". Unusual in an era when most naval and land-based air superiority fighters are larger and supersonic, the subsonic Sea Harrier is tasked primarily for air defence when operating from Royal Navy aircraft carriers.
The Sea Harrier served in the Falklands War, both of the Gulf Wars, 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, where 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 with one loss 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.
The Sea Harrier was marketed for sales abroad, but by 1983 India was the only operator other than Britain after sales to Argentina and Australia were unsuccessful. A second, updated version for the Royal Navy was made in 1993 as the Sea Harrier FA2, improving its air to air abilities and weapons compatibilities, along with a more powerful engine; this version continued manufacture until 1998. The aircraft was withdrawn early from Royal Navy service in March 2006 and replaced in the short term by the Harrier GR9, although the intended long term replacement is Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II. The Sea Harrier is in active use in the Indian Navy, although it will eventually be replaced by the Mikoyan MiG-29K.
The Sea Harrier is a subsonic aircraft designed to fill strike, reconnaissance and fighter roles. It features a single 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 with a heavier loadout than otherwise possible.
The Sea Harrier was largely based on the Harrier GR3, but was modified to have a raised cockpit with a "bubble" canopy for greater visibility, and an extended forward fuselage to accommodate the Ferranti Blue Fox radar. Parts were changed to use corrosion resistant alloys or coatings were added to protect against the marine environment. After the Falklands War, the Sea Harrier was fitted with the new anti-ship Sea Eagle missile.
The Sea Harrier FA2 featured the Blue Vixen radar, which was described as one of the most advanced pulse doppler radar systems in the world; the Blue Fox radar was seen be some critics as having comparatively low performance for what was available at the time of procurement. The Blue Vixen formed the basis for development of the Eurofighter Typhoon's CAPTOR radar. The Sea Harrier FA2 also carried the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, the first UK aircraft to be provided with this capability. An upgraded model of the Pegasus engine, the Pegasus Mk 106, was used in the Sea Harrier FA2; in response to the threat of radar-based anti aircraft weapons electronic countermeasures were added. Other improvements included an increase to the air-to-air weapons load, look-down radar, increased range, and improved cockpit displays.
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 Sea Harrier was demonstrated in an unintented incident on 6 June 1983, when Sub Lieutenant Ian Watson lost contact with the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and had to land on the foredeck of the Spanish cargo ship Alraigo.In 2005, although already timetabled to be retired, a Sea Harrier was modified with an 'Autoland' system to allow the fighter to perform a safe vertical landing without any pilot interaction. Despite the pitching of a ship posing a natural problem, the system was designed to be aware of such data, and successfully performed a landing at sea in May 2005.