Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sea Harriers And Harriers In The Falklands War

It is often difficult to gather accurate information on air warfare.

Sources often vary and aircraft have an unfortunate habit of moving around during conflicts.

The following is a reference page listing the movements of Fleet Air Arm (F.A.A.) Sea Harrier Fighter Reconnaissance Strike Mark 1s (F.R.S.1) and Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) Harrier Ground Attack and Reconnaissance Mark 3s (G.R.3) during the Falklands War of 1982.

It was collected when trying to work out the average number of Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s protecting the Task Force.

Information comes from a variety of sources and may or may not be correct.

It will be corrected and added to as required when time permits further cross checking with other sources.

Pilot's names are given in brackets.

In 1982 the Royal Navy's (R.N.) F.A.A. had 2 frontline Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 Squadrons,800 Naval Air Squadron (N.A.S.) and 801 N.A.S. with 5 Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s each and a training squadron,899 N.A.S.,with further aircraft.

The total Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 fleet was initially planned to be 34 aircraft,reduced to 33 in 1980 when a Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 (Lieutenant Commander Mike Blisset) was lost after hitting the ski jump on Her Majesty's Ship (H.M.S.) Invincible.

Of these 33 aircraft,2 may still have been under construction during the Falklands War,giving an actual fleet of just 31 Sea Harriers,including trials aircraft.

Of these 31 Sea Harriers,28 saw action in the Falklands War,an astonishing 90% of the fleet.

This is one of the finest examples of force generation in the history of air warfare.

2nd of April 1982:

Argentinian forces invade the Falkland Islands.

8 Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s sailed South with 801 N.A.S. on H.M.S.Invincible.

8th of April 1982:

809 N.A.S. formed with 8 Sea Harriers (Lieutenant Commander Tim Gedge,Lieutenant Commander Hugh Slade,Lieutenant Commander Dave Braithwaite,Lieutenant Commander Alasdair Craig,Lieutenant Bill Covington Lieutenant Dave Austin,Flight Lieutenant Steve Brown and Flight Lieutenant John Leeming).

31st of April 1982:

6 Sea Harriers of 809 N.A.S. fly to Ascension Island via Banjul Gambia.

1st of May 1982:

4th of May 1982:

6th of May 1982:

2 Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s (Lieutenant Alan Curtis and Lieutenant Commander John Eyton-Jones) collide in poor visibility and are lost.

8 Sea Harriers embark on Motor Vessel (M.V.) Atlantic Conveyor at Ascension Island (Lieutenant Commander Tim Gedge,Lieutenant Commander Hugh Slade,Lieutenant Commander Dave Braithwaite,Lieutenant Commander Alasdair Craig,Lieutenant Bill Covington Lieutenant Dave Austin,Flight Lieutenant Steve Brown and Flight Lieutenant John Leeming).

6 Harrier G.R.3s embark on Motor Vessel (M.V.) Atlantic Conveyor at Ascension Island.

18th of May 1982:

19th of May 1982:

20th of May 1982:

21st of May 1982:

23rd of May 1982:

27th of May 1982:

29th of May 1982:

30th of May:

1st of June 1982:

8th of June 1982:

14th of June 1982:

Argentine forces on the Falkland Islands surrender.

The following chart shows the make up of the British combat aircraft fleet in theatre during the Falklands War.

It covers the period from the first day of air combat operations on the 1st of May to the Argentinian surrender on the 14th of May.

Reinforcements from Ascension Island or M.V. Atlantic Conveyor have been added on the day they landed on the aircraft carriers.

Losses have been deducted on the day they were lost.

Air combat operations extended over a period of 45 days.

A total of 28 Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s and 10 Harrier G.R.3s took part in combat operations.

The size of the Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 fleet ranged from 17 to 25 aircraft.

The Harrier G.R.3 fleet ranged from 3 to 6 aircraft.

The Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 fleet generated 948 aircraft days in total.

The Harrier G.R.3 fleet generated 140 aircraft days in total.

Sources vary on the number of sorties flown by Sea Harriers and Harriers during the Falklands War.

Most commonly the Royal Navy Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s are credited with 1435 sorties over the 8 weeks between the task force leaving Ascension Island on the 17th of April 1982 and the Argentinian surrender on the 14th of June.

Some sources state that 1,335 of these were "combat sorties" which presumably were flown during the 45 days of air combat operations from the 1st of May 1982.

That is an average of 1.41 sorties per Sea Harrier F.R.S.1 day.

Royal Air Force Harrier G.R.3s are generally credited with 126 combat sorties.

That is an average of 0.9 sorties per Harrier G.R.3 day.

The combat aircraft of the Royal Air Force often generate far lower sortie rates than naval air arms so the discrepancy in the above numbers is not unusual.

However,this is usually the result of the R.A.F. operating from distant land bases.

In this case the Harrier G.R.3s were operating from the same carriers as the Sea Harrier F.R.S.1s.

At least 3 Harrier G.R.3s were seriously damaged by ground fire (but not lost) during the conflict,one of which,XW919,was subsequently out of action for the remainder of the war.

With the R.A.F. Harrier G.R.3 fleet ranging from 3 to 6 aircraft during the conflict,unservicable aircraft would have had a significant impact on sortie generation.

The following figures for sorties per aircraft per day from the other major war fighting operations since 1945 put those numbers in context.

Korea 1950 - 1953:

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 2.5 (approximate) sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based).

(Based on various patrols by H.M.S.Ocean in 1952.

Combat aircraft of the R.A.F did not take part in this conflict.)

Suez 1956:

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 2.8 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based).

Royal Air Force 1.4 sorties per aircraft per day (land based).

Falklands 1982:

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 1.41 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based Sea Harriers).

Royal Air Force 0.9 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based Harriers).

Royal Air Force 0.03 sorties per aircraft per day (land based Vulcans).

Kuwait 1990 to 1991:

United States Navy 1.25 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based on U.S.S Ranger,U.S.S. Midway and U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt).

Royal Air Force 0.9 sorties per aircraft per day (land based).

Kosovo 1999:

United States Navy 1.09 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based C.V.W.8 on U.S.S. Theodore Roosvelt).

Royal Air Force 0.46 (approximate) sorties per aircraft per day (land based,due to the progressive force buildup this figure probably understates the actual sortie rate).

(H.M.S.Invincible took part in this operation after being diverted while returning home from the Persian Gulf but operated well below her capacity as her Sea Harriers were given very little tasking.)

Afghanistan 2001:

United States Navy 1.1 (approximate) sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based F18 Hornets of V.F.A.15 on U.S.S.Enterprise).

United States Air Force 0.5 (approximate) sorties per aircraft per day (land based bombers on Diego Garcia).

United States Air Force 0.25 (approximate) sorties per aircraft per day (land based F15E fighters in the Persian Gulf).

(R.A.F. Tornados were also based in the Persian Gulf but took part in this operation.

Royal Navy aircraft carriers took part in the amphibious air assault role.)

Iraq 2003.

United States Navy 1.53 sorties per aircraft per day (carrier based U.S.S. Kittyhawk).

Royal Air Force 0.85 sorties per aircraft per day (land based Harriers and Tornados).

(Royal Navy aircraft carriers operated in the amphibious air assault role.)

It is clear from the above that the sortie generating performance of the Royal Navy Sea Harriers in the Falklands was comparable to that of United States Navy carrier based aircraft.

It is note worthy that British catapult equipped carriers exceeded these figures in both Korea and Suez.

During both the Falklands War and the Korean War Royal Navy aircraft carriers generated a peak of 4 sorties per aircraft per day.

Only during the Suez crisis of 1956 has the Royal Air Force managed to match the sortie rate generated by the Sea Harriers during the Falklands War.

Two distinct trends are apparent.

In every major air war that British forces have been involved in since 1945,carrier based naval aircraft have generated higher sortie rates than the land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force.

Royal Air Force combat aircraft regularly generate sortie rates which are far lower even than other land based air forces.

During the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001,the United States Air Force's strategic bombers on Diego Garcia flew sorties of similar length to those flown by Royal Air Force Vulcans on Ascension during the Falklands War.

However,the United States Air Force B1s and B52s in Afghanistan generated about 17 times as many sorties per aircraft per day as the Royal Air Force Vulcans in the Falklands.


Chuck Hill said...

I had realized that many harriers were lost in the operation.

steve said...

Forgive me but RNAS here means Royal Navy Air Squadron not Service.

Sometimes the S can stand for station.

The RNAS disappeared on 31st March 1918 as the RAF was born on 1st April 1918.

Fancy having April Fools Day as your corps birthday. :)

Sorry. Don't ban me, please.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Chuck Hill,

they took quite a hammering in the ground attack role.
If they ever had to face a high threat environment in a European context the Harriers would not have lasted long.

There were also some accidents which should have been avoided.

The Sea Harriers generally performed very well though.
Their sortie generation was comparable to or better than the big American carriers have managed in combat over the last 20 years.
Which is quite impressive,particularly as Invincible was not well designed as a carrier,she was a "cruiser" after all!

I am still adding to this post but will hopefully finish it off with some reasonably accurate statistics.


GrandLogistics said...

Hello steve,

thankyou,the entry has been corrected.
If you notice anything else please mention it.
I often notice mistakes in posts months after publishing them.
At least nobody noticed "810 N.A.S." before I could change it.


steve said...

Well Aprils' Fool Day was missing an apostrophe. ;)

I always spot the cringing error after the text is "published."

Chuck Hill said...

Big mistake to get rid of the Harriers.

However, the current Harrier fleet is not really a substitute for the Sea Harriers.

The Bald Cuban Press said...

Where's GrandLogistics? I've become spoiled by one informative well researched post after another.

Chuck Hill said...

Maybe he is taking a vacation. Wives object when you take them away and then spend all your time writing your blog.

Look forward to his return.

GrandLogistics said...


I'm baa-aack.

More posts coming soon.


Gary said...

Great blog -thanks. I really need an enlarged version of the photo on this page near the end, of Invincible (?) returning to Portsmouth - it's the buildings on the shore I need. Do you have a hi-res version or do you know the source please?


See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyeason/7056397847/

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Gary,

for copyright reasons most of the pictures used here come from government sites.

have a look here:



Pablo Calcaterra said...

HI Grand Logistics
Would it be possible to credit you with the picture of David Smith's Harrier on May 24th (ZA193) for a publication?
Pablo Calcaterra
ONtario, Canada

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Pablo Calcaterra,

I understand your problem.
That picture was almost certainly taken from a government site but I cannot find any official source for it now.
The copyright is not mine but if a picture is in widespread use and the copyringht cannot be identified I sometimes just put "copyright unknown" on it.

Grand Logistics.