|You may have notice if you have visited RAF Cottesmore in the last two years a number of Harriers with markings under the cockpit. The markings are bomb silhouettes and denote munitions dropped or fired as part of Op HERRICK, the British contribution to the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.
It’s a long standing tradition in the RAF to apply mission markings and nose art to planes in theatre. political correctness has deemed nose art no longer acceptable and the nose art for both OP TELIC and OP HERRICK have mostly been removed from the aircraft although a few less risque ones have survived.
In the case of the Harriers the two silhouettes of the Page 3 models, Michelle Marsh and Lucy Pinder, that were applied after they made a moral boosting visit to Afghanistan were removed. I believe the panels were removed and saved rather than being painted over. Hopefully this is the case and they are on a hanger wall or squadron bar wall.
One of the surviving examples of nose art from OP TELIC on a RAF Tornado.
Mission markings have not been removed from planes but they are also no longer being applied. Since late 2006 no Harriers have appeared with new markings. At some point these planes will be repainted in the new shade of grey and that could well be the end of mission markings.
Above is Harrier GR7A ZD433 / 45A with a selection of mission marks applied. Each mark signifies a particular munition and the amount of times this airframe has used that weapon.
540lb general purpose unguided bomb with impact fusing
Generally used against soft skinned targets where friendly forces or civilians are more than 245m away. In both 2006 and 2007, seventy two 540lb (including both impact and air burst) were dropped in OP HERRICK.
540lb general purpose unguided bomb with air burst fusing
Generally used against soft skinned targets where friendly forces or civilians are more than 245m away.
CRV-7 (Canadian Rocket Variant 7)
Unguided 2.75 inch rockets with folding fins. Available with either an explosive warhead or containing five tungsten-reinforced steel flechettes.
This pod contains 6 rockets and is usually used for training sorties.
CRV-7 (Canadian Rocket Variant 7)
This pod is the 19 rocket version usually used for operational sorties.
In 2006, 1390 were fired in Afghanistan and in 2007, 1854 were fired. These figures also include the CRV-7 rockets fired by the British Army Air Corp Apaches.
Precision Guide Munition (PGM)
In the case of the Harrier in Afghanistan this would be the Paveway II (laser guided 450kg bomb) or the Enhanced Paveway II / II+ (laser and GPS guided 545kg bomb).*
Used against hardened targets such as a building where friendly or civilian forces are 170m or more away.
* In early January 2009 the Paveway IV PGM was also added to the list of weapons cleared for the Harrier and was deployed for the first time by IV(AC) Squadron in Op HERRICK.
The Eight Mission Marked Harriers
Sadly, ZD408 / 37A was the Harrier GR7A that crashed at Ashwell whilst returning to RAF Cottesmore on the 16th June 2008. The Naval Strike Wing (NSW) pilot ejected safely.
Of course, it isn’t just the Joint Harrier Force that are committed in theatre. The Tornado GR4 / GR4A force has been deployed on OP TELIC for a long time now. Whilst they aren’t dropping anywhere as much ordinance (20 Paveways in 2007) as is being used in Afghanistan they are still doing a very important job and are also adding mission marks.
RAF Weapons Markings
For information about weapons markings and the identification colours applied to them take a look at this entry… RAF & NATO Weapons Markings
UPDATE (July 2009)
On the 1st July 2009 and after 5 years of deployment Joint Force Harrier returned to RAF Cottesmore. Having completed over two thousand Close Air Support (CAS) missions the Harrier was replaced by the Tornado GR4 on the 26th June 2009.
At RIAT 2009 Harrier ZD461 / 51A was noted in NSW marking with fresh paint and the mission marks removed. I suspect the others will shortly follow suit.
UPDATE (Feburary 2010)
The Harrier RTP (Reduce To Produce) is in the process of being setup at RAF Cottesmore to scrap the remaining GR7 Harriers that haven’t be upgraded to GR9 standard and the Harriers that have been used to source sparts.
Two of the first batch will be ZD404 / 33A and ZG471 / 61A along with the re-paint of both ZD461 / 51A and ZD347 / 14, the loss of ZD408 / 37A; this leaves only two Harriers with mission marks.
Thanks to Andy Carney – BMAL for the heads up on the RTP.
UPDATE (December 2010)
ZD378 / 26A was repainted in 2010 leaving only ZD433 / 45A to survive until the Harriers withdrawl from service even on December 15th 2010 (which it took part in). I hope that this Harrier is preserved in a museum as a reminder to the 41 years of service the Harrier has given the British armed forces.