British Aerospace Sea Harrier

Sea Harrier
A Sea Harrier FA2 of 801 NAS in flight at the Royal International Air Tattoo.
RoleV/STOL strike fighter
National originUnited Kingdom
Introduced20 August 1978 (FRS1)
2 April 1993 (FA2)
RetiredMarch 2006 (Royal Navy)
StatusActive service with Indian Navy
Primary usersRoyal Navy
Indian Navy
Unit costUS$18 million in 1991
Developed fromHawker Siddeley Harrier
VariantsAV-8B Harrier II
BAE Harrier II

The BAE Systems 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. The last version was the Sea Harrier FA2. Informally known as the "Shar", the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in March 2006 and replaced by the Harrier GR9.


In 1966 the planned CVA-01 class aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy were cancelled, apparently ending the Royal Navy's involvement in fixed-wing carrier aviation. However, beginning in the early 1970s, the first of a new class of "through deck cruisers" was planned, carefully named to avoid the term "aircraft carrier" to increase the chances of funding. These ships would eventually become the Invincible class aircraft carriers. With little modification, a 'ski-jump' was added to the end of the 170 m deck, enabling the carriers to operate a small number of V/STOL jets.

Sea Harrier FRS1

A Sea Harrier FRS 1 on HMS Invincible

The Royal Air Force's Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR1s had entered service in April 1969. In 1975 the Royal Navy ordered 34 Sea Harrier FRS.1s (later FRS1), the first of which entered service in 1978. In total 57 FRS1s were delivered between 1978 and 1988.

Harrier T4N

The Harrier T4N is not strictly a variant of the Sea Harrier, but is a two-seat naval training version of the Harrier T2. Four Harrier T4N were purchased by the Royal Navy for land-based training. It did not have radar and had a few Sea Harrier instruments, but was used for pilot conversion training for the Sea Harrier FRS1.

Sea Harrier FRS51

Single-seat fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft. The Sea Harrier FRS51 is similar to the FRS1. Unlike the British Sea Harrier, it is fitted with Matra R550 Magic air-to-air missiles. The first of twenty-three FRS51s were delivered to the Indian Navy in 1983.

Harrier T60

Sea Harrier FRS51. of the Indian Navy taking off from INS Viraat Sea Harrier FA2 ZE694 at the Midland Air Museum Sea Harrier FA2 ZA195 (upgrade) vector thrust nozzle - distinguishing feature of the jump jet

Export version of the T4N two-seat training version for the Indian Navy. At least four Harrier T60s were purchased by the Indian Navy for land-based training.

Sea Harrier FA2

Lessons learned from the aircraft's performance in the Falklands led to the requirement for an upgrade of the fleet, incorporating increased air-to-air weapons load, look-down radar, increased range, and improved cockpit displays. Approval for an upgrade to FRS.2 standard was given in 1984. First flight of the prototype took place on September 1988 and a contract was signed for 29 upgraded aircraft in December that year, with the upgraded aircraft to be known as the F/A.2 (later FA2). In 1990 the Navy ordered 18 new-build FA2s, at a unit cost of around £12 million, and a further 5 upgrades were ordered in 1994. 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 Vixen formed the basis for development of the Eurofighter Typhoon's CAPTOR radar. The Sea Harrier FA2 carries the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and was the first UK aircraft to be provided with this capability. The first aircraft was delivered on 2 April 1993 and the first operational deployment was in April 1994 as part of the UN force in Bosnia.

The final new-build Sea Harrier FA2 was delivered on 18 January 1999.

Harrier T8

Seven Harrier T4s two-seat trainers updated with Sea Harrier FA2 instrumentation but no radar. Retired from service in March 2006.


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.

The Sea Harrier was largely based on the Harrier GR3, but was modified to have a raised cockpit with a "bubble" canopy (to give better visibility for the air defence role) and an extended forward fuselage to accommodate the Ferranti (now BAE Systems) Blue Fox radar. Parts were changed to use corrosion resistant alloys or coatings were added to protect against the marine environment.

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.

Operational history

Falklands War

899 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton. The glossy metallic blue paint scheme was altered to a duller one en route South.

Sea Harriers took part in the Falklands War of 1982, flying from the aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes. The Sea Harriers were to operate in their primary air defence role with a secondary role of ground attack, with the RAF Harrier GR3 providing the main ground attack force. The Sea Harrier squadrons shot down 21 Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat with no air-to-air losses, although two Sea Harriers were lost to ground fire and four to accidents.

A number of factors contributed to the failure of the Argentinian fighters to shoot down a Sea Harrier. Although the Mirage III and Dagger jets were considerably faster, the Sea Harrier was more manoeuvrable. Moreover, the Harrier employed the latest AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles and the Blue Fox radar. The British pilots had superior air-combat training, one manifestation of which was that they noticed Argentinian pilots occasionally releasing weapons outside of their operating parameters. Mirages released external fuel tanks (not weapons) and turned away from conflict with the Sea Harrier. This later reduced their capability to fight an effective campaign against the Sea Harrier due to reduced range.

British aircraft received fighter control from warships in San Carlos Water, although its effectiveness was limited by their being stationed close to the islands, which severely limited the effectiveness of their radar.

800 NAS Sea Harrier FRS1 from HMS Hermes in low-visibility paint scheme.

Both sides' aircraft were operating in adverse conditions. Argentine aircraft were forced to operate from the mainland because airfields on the Falklands were only suited for propellor-driven transports. In addition, fears partly aroused by the bombing of Port Stanley airport by a British Vulcan bomber added to the Argentinians' decision to operate them from afar. As most Argentine aircraft lacked in-flight refuelling capability, they were forced to operate at the limit of their range. The Sea Harriers also had limited fuel reserves due to the tactical decision to station the British carriers out of Exocet missile range and the dispersal of the fleet. The result was that, although an Argentine aircraft could only allow five minutes over the islands to search and attack an objective and without any capable air-to-air missile, a Sea Harrier could stay near to 30 minutes waiting in the Argentine approach corridors.

The Sea Harriers were outnumbered by the available Argentinian aircraft and were on occasion decoyed away by the activities of the Escuadrón Fénix or civilian jet aircraft used by the Argentine Air Force. They had to operate without a fleet early warning system such as AWACS that would have been available to a full NATO fleet in which the Royal Navy had expected to operate.

The result was that the Sea Harriers could not establish complete air superiority and prevent Argentine attacks during day or night, nor could they stop the daily C-130 Hercules transports' night flights to the islands. A total of six Sea Harriers were lost to either ground fire, accidents or mechanical failure during the war.

Bosnia and Kosovo

It was deployed by the United Kingdom in the 1991–1995 war in Bosnia (part of Yugoslav wars) as a part of the international operations Deny flight, and Deliberate Force directed against Army of Republika Srpska. On April 16, 1994 a Sea Harrier of the 801 Naval Air Squadron operating from the light carrier HMS Ark Royal was brought down by a SAM fired by Army of Republika Srpska (most probably Strela 2) while attempting to bomb two Serbian tanks. The pilot, Lieutenant Nick Richardson ejected and landed in the territory controlled by friendly Bosnian Muslims. He later described his experiences in a book titled No Escape Zone.

It was used again in 1999 NATO campaign against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (operation Allied Force).

Royal Navy retirement

A Sea Harrier FA2 on display at the National Maritime Museum in May 2006

The Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service in 2006 and the last remaining aircraft from 801 Naval Air Squadron were decommissioned on 29 March 2006. The plans were announced in 2002 by the Ministry of Defence. The aircraft's replacement, the Lockheed/Northrop/BAE F-35, is not due until 2012 at the earliest. However, the MoD argued that significant expenditure would be required to upgrade the fleet for only six years of service.

Both versions of Harrier experienced reduced engine performance (Pegasus Mk 106 in FA2 - Mk 105 in GR7) in the higher ambient temperatures of the Middle East and this restricted the payloads able to be returned to the carrier decks in 'vertical' recoveries. Typically, in the era of 'Joint Force Harrier' combined operations in such theatres, the GR7 component detached from the carrier approximately two weeks before the Sea Harrier deck operations ceased. This was solely due to the safety factors associated with aircraft "land-on" weights. The natural option to install higher rated Pegasus engines would not be as straightforward as the Harrier GR7 upgrade and would likely be an expensive and slow process. Furthermore, the Sea Harriers were subject to a generally more hostile environment than land-based Harriers, with corrosive salt spray a particular problem. As of March 2006, all Sea Harriers have been retired from service. A number of aircraft have been retained for use by the School of Flight Deck Operations at RNAS Culdrose, and in theory these could be regenerated if needed.

The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm will continue to share the other component of Joint Force Harrier, the Harrier GR7 and the upgraded Harrier GR9 with the RAF, with the two front-line squadrons, 800 NAS re-commissioned in 6 April and 801 NAS are expected to reform in 2007 both using the GR9 by 2007. The projected purchase of around 150 F-35s will be split between the two services and they will operate from the Royal Navy's Future Carrier (CVF).

Indian Navy

Indian Navy's Sea Harriers fly along side U.S. Navy's F/A-18F Super Hornet during Malabar 2007.

The Indian Navy is in the process of upgrading up to fifteen Sea Harriers in collaboration with Israel by installing the Elta EL/M-2032 radar and the Rafael 'Derby' medium range air to air missile. This will enable the Sea Harrier to remain in Indian service until beyond 2012, and also see limited service off the new carriers it will acquire by that time frame.

The Indian Navy is currently interested in acquiring up to eight of the Royal Navy's retired Sea Harrier FA2s in order to maintain their operational Sea Harrier fleet, which consists of 13 Pegasus 104-powered Sea Harrier FRS51s. If the deal goes through it will have to involve ongoing support from BAE Systems and Rolls Royce. The sale will not involve the Sea Harrier FA2's Blue Vixen radar, the RWR and the AMRAAM capability. Certain US software will be deleted prior to shipment. With the loss of another Sea Harrier on 24 December 2007 (attempting a vertical landing, pilot ejected to safety), the total number of Sea Harriers with the Indian Navy has fallen to 13. India purchased 30 Sea Harriers in 1983, using 25 of these for operational flying and the remaining to train pilots. Since then seven pilots have died in 17 crashes involving the Sea Harrier and more than half of the fleet is now gone, lost mostly to routine sorties. Another Sea Harrier was been lost in 21 August 2009 killing the pilot. This brings the fleet to 11 aircraft. All the 11 fighters have been grounded until further checks.


Sea Harrier FRS1

Initial production version of a navalised Harrier, 57 built survivors converted to Sea Harrier FA2

Sea Harrier FA2

Upgraded version, new build and conversions from FRS1.

Sea Harrier FRS51

Indian Navy variant of the FRS1, 23 built


India India

  • Indian Navy
    • 300 Naval Squadron

Former operators

United Kingdom United Kingdom

  • Fleet Air Arm
    • 800 Naval Air Squadron - disbanded 2006
    • 801 Naval Air Squadron - disbanded 2006
    • 809 Naval Air Squadron - disbanded 1982
    • 899 Naval Air Squadron - disbanded 2006


  • Sea Harrier FA2 ZE694, Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England.
  • Sea Harrier FA2 serial number XZ439 Hawker-Siddeley Build number 912002 Nalls Aviation St Mary's County, Maryland, USA
  • A single Sea Harrier is privately owned and flying. The FA2 Sea Harrier was purchased for $1.5M from the RN in 2006 by Art Nalls who spent the next two years restoring it to flying condition. In December 2007 it suffered a hard landing while undergoing testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River which collapsed the landing gear, resulting in ten months of additional repairs. The aircraft made its first public appearance at an air show in Culpepper, Virginia in October 2008.

Specifications (Sea Harrier FA2)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 4 in (3.71 m)
  • Wing area: 201.1 ft² (18.68 m²)
  • Empty weight: 14,052 lb (6,374 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 26,200 lb (11,900 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan, 21,500 lbf (95.64 kN)


  • Maximum speed: 635 knots (735 mph, 1182 km/h)
  • Combat radius: 540 nmi (620 mi, 1,000 km)
  • Ferry range: 1,740 nmi (2,000 mi, 3,600 km)
  • Service ceiling: 51,000 ft (16,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 50,000 ft/min (250 m/s)


  • Guns: 2× 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon pods under the fuselage,with 100 rounds per cannon
  • Hardpoints: 4× under-wing pylon stations holding up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) of payload
  • Rockets: 4× Matra rocket pods with 18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each
  • Missiles:
    • Air-to-air missile:
      • AIM-9 Sidewinder
      • AIM-120 AMRAAM
      • R550 Magic (Sea Harrier FRS51)
    • Air-to-surface missile:
      • ALARM Anti-radiation missile (ARM)
      • Martel missile ARM
    • Anti-ship missile:
      • Sea Eagle
  • Bombs: A variety of unguided iron bombs (including 3 kg and 14 kg practice bombs) or WE.177 nuclear bomb (until 1992 on RN Sea Harriers)
  • Others:
    • reconnaissance pods or
    • 2× auxiliary drop tanks for ferry flight or extended range/loitering time