U.S. Marine Corps leadership recently decided to extend the service life of the fleet of AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft to 2028.
“We will continue to be a fourth-gen/fifth-gen fleet out until about 2030, with Harriers probably going to 2028 and F/A-18s going to 2030-2031,” said Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, the Marine Corps’ deputy commandant for aviation. He testified April 4 during a hearing of the Tactical Air and Ground Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Harrier, based on the British-designed Hawker-Siddley Kestrel, entered service in the Marine Corps in the 1980s. Its twin intake Rolls Royce engine produces more than 23,000 pounds of thrust, enough to rocket the sleek 24,000 pound aircraft into flight in less than 844 feet, the length of the Bonhomme Richard. With a maximum speed of nearly 650 miles per hour and a range of 2,400 miles, the Harrier has extended the reach of the Marine Corps across entire regions and strategic sea-lanes during the last three decades.
At its inception, the Harrier replaced other less capable, though no less formidable, Marine Corps fixed-wing jets. The AV-8B, technically a vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft, combines maneuverability, adaptability, reliability and inherent combat-power into its 46-foot frame. It launches into flight in roughly seven seconds, using the aft-facing sea breeze to generate lift beneath its 30-foot wingspan, to provide close-air-support to ground troops with one 25 mm cannon and up to 9,200 pounds of ordnance.
It has supported training, operations and combat almost continuously, but as Marine Corps aviation continues to grow and evolve, the Harrier will eventually enter the annals of Marine Corps history. Its successor, the so-called 5th generation fighter jet, the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, is scheduled to replace the Harrier in the near future.
Marine Corps extended the Harrier’s service life in view of delays of the delivery F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike.
To date, the F-35B aircraft has deployed on two amphibious assault ships, USS Wasp and USS Essex.