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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 21 December 2023

Harrier GR 7/9 Units in Combat

This is the latest in the Osprey Combat Aircraft series by a former Tornado pilot, Michael Napier. He chronicles the history of the Harrier GR 7/9 and its combat missions in West Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan. This is the later version of the iconic fighter that played an important role in the Falklands War. 

The development of the Harrier began in the 1950s, and the first operational version, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the late 1960s. The Harrier was unique in its design, featuring swivelling nozzles that directed engine thrust downward for vertical takeoff and landing and horizontally for conventional flight. This innovation allowed the Harrier to operate from short and unprepared airstrips and amphibious assault ships. Harriers still practised taking off from ships long after the Falklands War and were deployed on board HMS Invincible during Operation Bolton (Persian Gulf) in 1998.

The Harrier's ability to operate from limited and unconventional airstrips made it a valuable asset for ground attack and air defence roles. However, as technology advanced and new aircraft designs emerged, the Harrier's role became more specialized. The last Harrier squadron in the RAF was disbanded in 2010, marking the end of the Harrier's service with the British military.

The focus of this book is on combat operations. Starting with Northern Iraq, enforcing no-fly zones after the First Gulf War. My main interest was in the next chapter on operations in Bosnia, including Operation Deliberate Force. The Harrier was deployed to enforce a no-fly zone based in Italy. They practised mountain flying in Wales and Scotland, and I can recall seeing a flight of them practising as I was hill walking at the time. You get a description of the operations and the weaponry used, but the strength of this book is the interviews with pilots who fly the missions. These included attacks on Bosnian Serb ammunition stores near Pale, which were used to shell Sarajevo. They often flew in partnership with Jaguar strike aircraft, with the Harriers acting as lookouts in challenging weather.

After Bosnia, they deployed for operations in Kosovo. These included attacks in Serbia and Kosovo, although some operations were called off due to bad weather. There was some media criticism of the failure to hit targets, but these often ignored the strict rules of engagement. After the Serbian Air Force was degraded, the Harriers still faced threats from SAM batteries. They also worked with A10 squadrons to spot and attack ground targets. The Harriet detachment flew 870 sorties during Operation Endgame. 

In 2003, it was back in Iraq, although this time, it was flying out of bases in Kuwait rather than Turkey. They supported the main coalition advance on Baghdad, attacking Iraqi supply routes. The final chapter covers operations in Afghanistan and the British responsibilities during Operation Herrick, based in Kandahar. 

As usual with this series, the book is profusely illustrated, including colour plates of the aircraft with modifications for each theatre of operations. This study will appeal to plane buffs, but the operational narrative will widen its appeal. 

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