Pre-deployment trials of Raytheon Systems' Paveway IV precision-guided bomb by the UK Royal Air Force's BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9-equipped 4 Sqn have delivered strong results, and the unit expects to deploy the new weapon to Afghanistan as soon as late this month.

Elements from the first frontline unit to field the 226kg (500lb) Paveway IV design recently visited the USA to conduct live weapon trials in Arizona. These fully demonstrated the weapon's wide range of kinetic effects, and the performance of its Thales Missile Electronics-developed Aurora fuze, says officer commanding Wg Cdr Harv Smyth.

Using INS/GPS and laser guidance, the lightweight weapon will be a welcome addition to the Afghan theatre of operations, he says, due to its ability to minimise the risk of collateral damage, even when used close to coalition ground forces or civilian infrastructure.

Paveway IV Harrier GR9

To begin in late November, 4 Sqn's four-month deployment to Kandahar airfield will be the final Afghan rotation currently planned for the UK's Joint Force Harrier, which has maintained a detachment in the country since early 2003. Also comprising the RAF's 1 Sqn and the Royal Navy's Naval Strike Wing, this will from early next year shift focus to other commitments, including operations from the Royal Navy's Invincible-class aircraft carriers.

The Harrier's Afghan commitment will be assumed by RAF Panavia Tornado GR4s, with these expected to be drawn initially from its Lossiemouth-based 12 Sqn. The GR4 force will also continue to meet its long-standing duty in supporting ground forces in southern Iraq from Qatar, but is well equipped to meet the parallel challenges, believes Wg Cdr David Cooper, officer commanding its 617 Sqn.

Speaking at a Royal United Services Insitute Frontline Insights lecture in London early this month, Cooper described the GR4 as "a very potent package" for coalition operations, citing its diverse range of range of air-to-surface weapons and upgraded communications equipment.

Another RAF source says work is now under way to significantly accelerate the availability of the Paveway IV with the Tornado GR4 from an original target for it to achieve initial operational capability in 2011.

"We look forward to the Paveway IV coming into service soon," says Cooper. "It's more flexible and lighter, so we can carry more."

Source: Flight International