Potential delays to Joint Strike Fighter could see BAE strike aircraft fly beyond 2020

The UK Ministry of Defence is considering a programme to further extend the life of its upgraded BAE Systems Harrier GR9/9A strike aircraft fleet to cover for the possible delayed introduction into service of its Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The Harrier's out-of service date has been set for 2018, but industry sources suggest this could drift past 2020 if the availability of the UK's replacement F-35 Joint Combat Aircraft slips beyond its 2012 target.

Possible future capabilities beyond those mandated in the GR9/9A upgrade, worth around £500 million ($910 million), could include integration of one Link 16 datalink, tactical information exchange capability, defensive aids subsystem, helmet-mounted cueing system, MBDA's ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missile and a replacement for the UK's current Joint Reconnaissance Pod. "Nothing's not to be thought of," says an industry source close to the GR9 project, who describes the modernisation effort's regular insertion of expanded capability as "a major opportunity to enhance the product".

The Royal Air Force's Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit conducted its first test sortie with a GR9 last month, with this introducing a new mission computer and 1760 stores management databus in the Capability A configuration. Joint Force Harrier's first 24 GR9/9As will be declared operationally ready in September 2006 in the Capability B standard carrying current weapons, with a Capability C update to add Raytheon Systems' Paveway IV precision-guided bomb by mid-2007. Environmental flight tests of the weapon began at BAE's Warton site in Lancashire last month, and jettison trials are due to start later this year.

The GR9 upgrade is funded through Capability D, which will add MBDA's Brimstone air-launched anti-armour weapon. BAE hopes to secure an integration contract by early next year to conduct future Capability E upgrades to the Harrier fleet.


Source: Flight International