The UK Ministry of Defence is considering a re-engineing programme for the Royal Navy's British Aerospace Sea Harrier F/A2s and Royal Air Force's Harrier GR7s, which would improve performance, and may extend the aircraft's service life.

The MoD confirms that a re-engineing project is being studied, although it adds that it is not yet "an endorsed staff requirement". The F/A2's Rolls-Royce Pegasus 11-21 will be replaced by the Pegasus 11-61, if the programme goes ahead.

The engine upgrade on the RN's three squadrons of F/A2s would provide the aircraft with a much improved hot-and-high performance. The 11-61 provides up to 15% greater thrust at high ambient temperatures.

The Pegasus 11-61 powerplant is already fitted to US Marine Corps, Italian and Spanish Boeing AV-8B Plus aircraft.

The MoD says that, while a re-engineing programme is being actively considered, it also falls within the remit of the Labour Government's continuing Strategic Defence Review.

A decision to go ahead with the re-engineing for the Sea Harrier could see the retirement date of the RN's F/A2s extended.

The RN has been looking to replace the Sea Harrier with the US Department of Defense's Joint Strike Fighter by 2008-10. If the F/A2s were to be re-engined, this could see the aircraft's service life extended into the second decade of the next century.

The MoD adds that including the RAF's Harrier GR7s in an engine-upgrade programme will also be considered as an option.

Speculation over the long-term future of the RAF's Harrier GR7 fleet continues, with senior RAF officers admitting that the air force may eventually make the transition to a two-type combat-aircraft inventory consisting of the Eurofighter EF2000 and the Future Offensive Air System.

The RN, meanwhile, harbours ambitions of acquiring some of the RAF's GR7s to provide an organic strike capability for its Invincible-class carriers.

Source: Flight International