- Crew: 1
- Role: Multi-role Naval Combat Aircraft
- Length: 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m)
- Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
- Height: 12 ft 2 in (3.71 m)
- Empty weight: 14,052 lb (6,374 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 26,200 lb (11,900 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Pegasus mk106 vectored thrust turbofan, 21,750 lbs (95.64 kN)
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.9 (735 mph)
- Ferry range: 1,740 miles
- Service ceiling: 51,000 ft
2-4× AIM-9L Sidewinders
2-4x AIM-120B AMRAAM
2× 30 mm ADEN guns
8,000lbs of ordinance on external stores
The success of the Sea Harrier FRS.1 in the Falklands War surprised many including the Admiralty who expected a 50% casualty rate among the small force. Nevertheless the conflict highlighted several weaknesses that although were already known before the war were not considered important enough to address for both financial and political reasons not least of which was the expectation that the Sea Harrier was to have a short life in the Royal Navy before they and the carrier HMS Invincible were to be sold to Australia. Indeed, some viewed the Sea Harrier project as merely a demonstration of British technology in order to gain lucrative sub-contracts to other aerospace companies particularly in the US. After 1982 however the aircraft was viewed as an important part of any future British planning and so they were retained.
While the aircraft faired well against the Argentinians with their ageing fighters confidence in its ability to protect the fleet was shaken by the arrival of new long range Soviet fighters such as the MiG-31 “Foxhound” and the Su-27 “Flanker-A”. This fear was exacerbated by the news that the Soviet Navy was about to deploy its first true aircraft carriers with their extremely capable Su-33 “Flanker-Ds”. The Sea Harrier needed an update to remain credible in the face of these new threats and just like in 1982 it was going to have to have a more sophisticated weapon system to make up for the performance shortfall.
The old Blue Fox radar in the FRS.1 was therefore replaced by a far more sophisticated Ferranti Blue Vixen radar which at the time of its introduction in 1988 was claimed to be one of the most capable pulse doppler radars in the world which gave the aircraft its long sought after look down/shoot down capability. As well as being a formidable air-to-air radar it could also perform ground mapping and surface target detection and tracking functions making the Sea Harrier FA2 a true multi-role combat aircraft. Fitting Blue Vixen necessitated a redesign of the radome replacing the rocket-like shape of the FRS.1 with a more bulbous look which was deceptively shorter in length. With the Soviet Navy’s Su-33s sporting a powerful beyond visual range (BVR) capability in the R-27 medium range air-to-air missile it was decided to arm the Sea Harrier FA2 with the AIM-120B AMRAAM to even the odds and in doing so the Sea Harrier FA2 became the first fighter outside of the United States to field this weapon.
Other improvements included uprated Rolls-Royce Pegasus Mk106 turbofan engines and a comprehensive electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. Imporvements that were planned but ultimately shelved included the fitting of second generation Harrier GR.5/7 style leading edge root extensions (LERXes) that would have improved roll rate and wingtip pylons for an additional pair of AIM-9L Sidewinders.
The Sea Harrier FA2 entered service in 1993 by which time the threat of the now-Russian carrier program had greatly diminished. Nevertheless the Sea Harrier FA2 performed sterling work enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq, Bosnia (during which time a single aircraft was shot down by a SAM) and Kosovo. More importantly the aircraft helped develop Joint Force Harrier which meant that RAF Harriers could operate off the carriers in the strike role freeing up the Sea Harriers for the fighter role building on hard earned experience in the Falklands. Near the end of its career an automatic VTOL landing system was trialled on a Sea Harrier FA2 and this has gone on to form the basis of a similar system for the F-35B Lightning II.
The Sea Harrier FA2 was retired from service in 2006.