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Sea Harrier stars of Falklands fly for last time


Lantern Swinger
From today's Telegraph.

Sad day.

Sea Harrier stars of Falklands fly for last time
By Richard Savill
(Filed: 29/03/2006)

The Royal Navy's Sea Harrier jump-jets, which played a vital role in the Falklands conflict 24 years ago, made their final flight yesterday.

Tributes were paid to the fighter as the last five from 801 Squadron performed an aerial display at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset, their base for 26 years.

The jets are being decommissioned to make way for new GR7 and GR9 ground attack Harriers. They will be stored pending disposal.

Vice-Adml Adrian Johns, the Second Sea Lord, said: "It is a very emotional day and it is very sad to say farewell to the Sea Harriers, which have contributed so much, especially in the Falklands."

Cdr Henry Mitchell, 43, the longest-serving Sea Harrier pilot, flying them for 21 years, said: "It hasn't quite hit me yet that this is the last time I will fly this amazing jet."

Argentine fighters failed to shoot down any of the 29-strong fleet of Sea Harriers in the Falklands. More recently, the fighter served in the first Gulf war, the Balkans and Sierra Leone.

The two former Sea Harrier squadrons, 801 and 800, are to be reformed with GR7s at RAF Cottesmore, in Rutland, but will retain their naval traditions.


Lantern Swinger
Please excuse my ignorance, but isn't this a name change and upgrade to better aircraft rather than ditching the Harrier?

Will the GR7 not run off ships?


War Hero
Upgrade to a better airframe yes. Retirement of an aircraft that was a sod to work on,yes.

BUT (and it's a big 'un) although GR7/7A and GR9/9A will be carrier compatible, neither of them do air-to-air in any meaningful way. The logic goes something along the lines of "we'll take a risk that in the six, eight, ten? years between SHAR OSD and CVF/JCA initial op capability, that we won't have any altercations with unfriendly folk who have any sort of air force, or if we do, the USN will provide cover. In the meantime, those nice shiny T45 will provide all the AD we'll ever need......"

In the meantime, 800 & 801 convert to mainly strike-attack (presumably including training) and the DAC skills fade away. When the next round of capability shenanigans come around, the crabs will be able to say "WE do air defence, not the FAA" and make it stick based on the capabilities of teh aircraft they have in service.

It would be interesting to see how the argument would pan out if 800/801 were flying Hornets, Rafale or even F-14 (USN has 30-odd D-models going cheap!). All Tac air should be dark blue, all rotorheads dark blue or pongo and the crabs can keep the AT force. Dream on.....


War Hero
Remember that Cottesmore will still be an RAF station with FAA sqns. Similarly, when the RAF Sea King Trg Unit was at Culdrose, this remained a RNAS.

Jointery requires adjustments from both sides, I'm sure that 800 and 801 will remain fiercely loyal to their Service and make their own 'RNAS corner' at Cottesmore.

May the SHAR rest in peace, and let's all move on. Good luck and safe flying to both 800 and 801 in their new roles.


Lantern Swinger
I heard that the reason they have got rid of the Sea Harrier is because a new breed of engine has come in and even though it will fit into the GR7 and GR9, the air frame of the Sea Harrier was too small. It would have cost too much to have the air frame made bigger to take the new engine. Any techno's out there who can confirm this or not?.


War Hero
Yeah, that is the bottom-line reason. The GR 7 & GR9 are the Harrier II airframe developed by BAE & McDonnell in the mid-80s, whereas the poor old SHAR is still basically the same airframe that was developed in the 60's.

Fitting the new uprated Pegasus (I forget the mark) in the Harrier II is easier as its a bigger airframe, just look at a SHAR next to a GR7.

But, the USMC / Spanish & Italians all fly the Harrier II with a radar (same as the F18D IIRC) in the front end, knwon as the Harrier II+). That air to air capability is what we're losing.


War Hero
The cost of the new engine to improve the performance of the SHAR was not the only reason for its demise. It was also increasingly costly to maintain such a small fleet, and the aircraft was about to undergo an expensive avionics modernisation. Sadly therefore, the decision was taken to retire the aircraft and use the money for other projects.

To my mind, its a far from ideal risk although I can understand the logic when we have Army guys driving around in unarmoured vehicles in Iraq, big short falls in RAF AT, Defensive Aids, and insufficient numbers of RAF and RN SH. These are cpability gaps which are being felt every day.

Not a Boffin is correct that some USMC, and all Spanish and Italian AV-8Bs have been upgraded to B+ standard. This added the APG-65 radar formerly fitted to the FA-18 (they now have the APG-73) and an AMRAAM capability (on Spanish and Italian jets only) at the expense of reducing the A-G capability slightly. Ironically, both the APG-65 and 73 are inferior to the FA2s Blue Vixen which has formed the basis for the Typhoon's Captor radar.

BAeS examined fitting either the Blue Vixen or APG-65 into the GR9 but the integration costs would be extortionate (GR9s have different avionics software and some minor hardware alterations to the B+). Therefore, a similar upgrade to the RAF and FAA GR9s is unaffordable. I think the best we'll get therefore is for ASRAAM and JTIDS to be added to the GR9. With SKASaC support, this would partially, but not wholly, replace the loss of AMRAAM to the RN.

Sadly, what should have happened in the early 80s when the FAA and RAF were looking at upgrades or replacements for their FRS1 and GR3 respectively was that we coordinated better. We could then have procured the GR7 with Blue Vixen and an AMRAAM and not bothered with the FA2. Sadly however, Joint was a dirty word then, you wanted an AD asset with minimal A-G capability, and we wanted an A-G asset.



War Hero
In fairness MM, when the requirement for FA2 was being worked out, it was almost entirely based on overcoming the limitations of BF / AIM9 vs the high-performance Sov bloc fighters and strike a/c we expected to meet at sea (in other words how do we fix the limitations of FRS1). CrabAir on the other hand wanted to recapitalise the GR3s (that were really showing their age) for jumping out of the German forest and toasting GSFG and their hordes of armour. No thought whatsoever of going to sea (despite the lessons of 82 and the odd JMC exercise!).

Two completely different requirements and mindsets. I happen to agree with you that we should have been better co-ordinated, but the FAA would never have been allowed to get aboard a large production run programme and I suspect the thought of a subsonic, but rough field and AIM-120 capable fighter might have scuppered what was EFA back then.

What is dangerous is the likelihood that the FAA (and JFH as a whole) will concentrate on GA or VFR air-to-air and never get back the OCA/DCA capability we once had. I'm sure EC(DTA) will say that we'll have the Typhoon with us to do that, but you'll never get anyone in dark blue to feel comfortable with that. Similarly, the assumption that we'll never face a credible f/w threat without US or EU is only that - an assumption. No-one ever thought that we'd be doing an amphibious assault 5000nm from the nearest airbase in 82. More relevantly, had you told people that the RM would be conducting an amphibious assault followed by offensive ground campaign in the Gulf in the 90s you'd have been locked up!

Now can we buy those nice F14Ds please?


Lantern Swinger
It certainly was a sad day as they departed. Particularly dissapointing was their instruction (from on high) 'not to' beat up the field one last time before departing.
Word is the first 4 T45 will have only a small amount of their true capability available for some time. Not a comforting thought when your stuck out at sea relying on others to fill the gaps.
If our 'special friends' do not agree to share all the source codes for JSF (and a RR alternate engine) we may well end up cancelling after all! What will follow? F/A 18E/F's? At least we'd not be hampered by the limited range of V/STOL. Who knows we could even end up with Rafale on a French designed carrier, Nelson would turn in his grave!


War Hero
Concur with what you say although I'm not sure a 'GR7+' with AMRAAM and Blue Vixen would have scuppered Typhoo due to the political work share issues. If it could have been added at the beginning of the GR5/7 programme, costs saved from the FA2 programme would have easily funded Sea Vixen and AMRAAM integration on the GR7.

I also share your misgivings about relying upon allies for AD. However, hopefully a fair few RN exchange dudes will get BVR experience on exchange with Typhoo and allied ac, and the skills can soon be reaquired in the run up to JCA (whether that be F-35, Rafale or FA-18E). The F-14D is really a non starter as we'd have to buy a USN CVN with all the associated support. Too expensive and too damaging to Brit jobs.

Hopefully, the RAF/FAA GR9 fleet will get ASRAAM and JTIDS. If so, the capabilities of ASRAAM when added to SKASaC C2 will make up some of the capability lost with the demise of RN AMRAAM.
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