London — Britain's aeronautics industry is jumping for joy over a huge deal with the United States for construction of a new generation of vertical takeoff Harrier jets.
Four hundred of the aircraft are to be built, and all but 60 of them will go into service with the US Marines. The others will be flown by the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The deal, which will mean over $:1 billion ($1.84 billion) in orders for the British aircraft industry, assures the Harrier jump-jet a life well into the 1990s. It also means that a form of modern technology devised over 20 years ago is at last reaching the point of major fulfillment.
First-generation Harriers began flying in the 1960s amid predictions that the plane's vertical short takeoff land landing (VSTOL) capability would revolutionize combat aircraft.
But then doubts and hesitations set in. The Harriers had only limited range. The payload they could carry was also restricted.
British planemakers tried to devise a version of the jump-jet that could carry more bombs and might be better able to defend itself against attacking aircraft.
In the end, many of these hopes fell by the wayside, and the British Defense Ministry decided to cooperate with the US on development of a joint-venture plane. The result is the AV8B, which will be flown by the US Marines and the RAF.
The new plane will be faster and safer than the AV8B now in service with the Marine Corps. It will also carry an effective antitank gun, making it a deadly weapon against armored formations.
Under the joint deal, 60 percent of the airframe work will be done by the US firm McDonnell-Douglas; 75 percent of the work on the plane's Pegasus VSTOL engine will go to Rolls-Royce.
There will be assembly lines in Britain and the US.
A major attraction of the joint venture is that it opens the way for Anglo-American cooperation on the eventual development of a supersonic jump-jet to succeed the AV8B.
A prototype of the AV8B is already flying. Production of the 400-plane order is beginning already, and the first jets will start going into service on both sides of the Atlantic in two or three years.