The UK Ministry of Defence has accelerated integration of Raytheon UK Paveway IV laser- and GPS-guided bombs into BAE Systems Harrier GR9 ground-attack aircraft in response to lessons learned from last year's Operation Telic in Iraq, say programme sources.
The £500 million ($916 million) GR9 upgrade programme is in its flight-test phase. It will enable 70 of the Royal Air Force's Harriers to continue flying until 2015, when they will be replaced by Lockheed Martin F-35B short take-off and vertical landing Joint Strike Fighters.
Five GR9 development aircraft have completed two-thirds of the flight-trials programme, led by the UK Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) and Qinetiq. The new navigation equipment is already proven and weapons-aiming trials are also nearing completion, says Andrew Lavin, BAE's head of Harrier capability upgrade programmes.
The first operational release under the programme's Capability A segment will take place in November, to prove previous Harrier GR7 capabilities using legacy systems. The first release to service approval for the new configuration is expected in March 2005, says Lavin.
Following the GR7's strong performance in Iraq last year, a decision was taken to speed the availability of the Paveway IV, selected last year under the MoD's precision-guided bomb competition.
Missile systems to be integrated through the GR9 programme include the in-service Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick and MBDA Brimstone, which will be available from 2006-7. The aircraft will also receive secure communications equipment to improve its battlefield connectivity.
CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON
Source: Flight International