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Interview with Commander 'Sharkey Ward' - Sea Harrier

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The Sea Harrier did a lot better than it should have, but that was a result of two factors:

Outstanding pilots and the AIM-9s the US supplied. Great pilots combined with a solid performing weapon can do a lot to make up for aircraft limitations.

To be fair, the Argentinian aircraft sank some ships despite being behind overall in technology. The Mirages/Daggers were faster, but otherwise not that much superior to the Harrier in air-to-air. The Skyhawks were essentially in the same performance class as the Harrier with lower thrust to weight.

So the lop sided air-to-air victories of the UK were firmly the result of their pilots leveraging their situational awareness from their various GCI/AWACS sources, great tactical skills, and a bit of luck. The AIM-9's simply performed reliably enough to not get in the way of good pilot decisions, unlike AIM-9B/E/J performance in Vietnam. The AIM-9L was really just the mature evolution of the AIM-9D/G/H that actually had a great record in combat compared to the B/E/J variants. The all-aspect capability didn't really have an effect. The kills were generally stern chase situations and the AIM-9L proved that in the absence of countermeasures like flares in a cold weather environment, it was an outstanding weapon.

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As I much prefer air-to-air over flying air-to-ground, I love the Sea Harrier :)

Until the AV-8B got upgraded with a multimode radar and AMRAAM, the Sea Harrier was by far the best variant for air-to-air. The late model AV-8B with a radar and missiles comparable to the F/A-18C Hornet was a first rate aircraft. The F-35B more or less gives you an AV-8B+ with even better sensors/avionics and a supersonic capability. I still like the Harrier's engine setup better than the F-35's lift fan. But the F-35 approach retains the V/STOL capability while providing the afterburning supersonic performance the Harrier lacked. However, there was an afterburning supersonic Harrier approach that might have worked had it been funded, it just wouldn't have had the F-35's stealth.

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