The UK's ability to conduct deployed operations with BAE Systems' Harrier GR9/9A ground-attack aircraft has moved a step closer to reality, with the type having achieved its formal in-service date (ISD) with the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
Achieved late last month, the ISD milestone represents the frontline availability of 24 improved GR9s and one Harrier T12 two-seat trainer delivered off the Joint Upgrade and Maintenance Programme line at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. The aircraft are among an eventual total of 60 GR9/9As and 10 T12s to be modernised from Joint Force Harrier's current Harrier GR7/7A standard under a project worth £500 million ($935 million).
The wide-ranging work package is expected to keep the UK's Harriers in operational use until after its Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters enter service from the middle of the next decade. Managed by the UK Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO), the programme also involves BAE's Customer Solutions and Support business unit, Rolls-Royce and test and evaluation company Qinetiq.
The UK's Harrier fleet will eventually comprise 60 single-seat GR9/9As, with operations to run until around 2020
The UK's current GR9s are now available in the so-called Capability B2+ software standard, which includes improved navigation and communication equipment, a ground proximity warning system and the ability to fire the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile. A Capability C release is planned for December, with this to add Raytheon's Paveway IV precision-guided bomb and a successor identification friend-or-foe system.
Capability D will add MBDA's Brimstone air-launched anti-armour missile, a Link 16 datalink and cover the digital integration of the Harrier's current Joint Reconnaissance Pod in 2008. An E-standard software package is also in its assessment phase, to introduce capabilities including a tactical information exchange capability, the DLO says.
The high operational demands of the UK's Joint Force Harrier operations in southern Afghanistan have moved the Ministry of Defence to temporarily commit a seventh Harrier GR7A to Kandahar airfield.