The BAE Systems FA2 Sea Harrier fighter aircraft, which was in service with the British Royal Navy, provided air defence for the carrier fleet, particularly against low-flying attack aircraft armed with long-range air-to-surface missiles. The FA2 first flew in 1988 and entered service in 1993. 56 aircraft were built for the Royal Navy. The Sea Harrier was retired from the UK Royal Navy in March 2006, but is currently in service with the Indian Navy.
The design of the aircraft is optimised for air-to-air combat with secondary missions of surveillance, air-to-sea and air-to-ground attack.
The aircraft is able to detect and destroy threats before the launch of an attack using long-range weapon systems with look-down and shoot-down tactical capability.
In February 2002, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that RN FA2 Sea Harriers would be retired from service by April 2006, and that the combined RAF/RN joint force Harrier (JFH) will be operated with RAF Harrier GR7/9 aircraft by 2007.
The first of the Royal Navy's three Sea Harrier squadrons was decommissioned in March 2004. The final Sea Harrier squadron, 801 NAS, was decommissioned on 29 March 2006. The Harriers will be replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from 2012.
The ground attack / reconnaissance GR7s were upgraded to GR9 standard with new systems including: mission computer, stores management system for the deployment of the Brimstone anti-armour missile and precision-guided bombs, inertial navigation system / global positioning system, ground proximity warning system, upgraded displays and secure communications. The GR9 took its maiden flight in May 2003 and entered service in September 2006.
In March 2005, Indian Navy awarded an aircraft upgrade contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The contract includes the fitting of Elta EL/M-2032 multimode fire control radars and Rafael Derby visual range air-to-air missiles. The aircraft are also fitted with new combat manoeuvring flight recorders and digital cockpit voice recorders. The upgrades were completed in 2009.