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The AV-8B -- A Limited Warrior By No Other Name
AUTHOR Major William M. H. Clark, USMC
CSC 1988
                         EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I. Purpose. To discuss the capabilities and shortcomings of the
AV-8B Harrier as they apply to the roles and missions of the
airplane in amphibious operations, and to recommend equipment
changes needed to meet today's modern battlefield challenges.
2. Problem. Although the AV-8B was primarily designed as a close
air support (CAS) aircraft, it is increasingly called upon to
perform additional multi-role functions that it is not fully
capable of doing in today's sophisticated battlefield. The future
night attack version of the Harrier, even though incorporating
numerous technological changes, still will not adequately meet
the challenge.
3. Data. The AV-8B is designed to perform only day or night
visual CAS. It does this mission well. However, it may often be
called upon to defend Amphibious Task Force(ATF) assets from
enemy air or surface attack, and escort assault helicopters
through hostile territory . The new Night Harrier, coming on
line soon, will be tasked to conduct night, limited visibility
CAS. Today's modern battlefield, obscured with smoke and haze,
will severely degrade the Harrier's ability to conduct CAS with
the current angle rate bombing system(ARBS).  Additionally, due
to the lack of an air-to-air radar, the Harrier is defenseless
against enemy aircraft in beyond  visual range(BVR) situations.
The U.S.  Air Force  F-16, equipped with the APG-68
air-to-surface/ air-to-air radar, is an excellent example of an
aircraft with these multi-role capabilities.
IV. Conclusion. The Harrier needs an improved air-to-surface/
air-to-air radar that will make the Harrier capable of limited
visibilty bombing, and most importantly, give it the capability
to defend the ATF and Marine helicopters, which it is often
called upon to do.
V. Recommendation. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps should
incorporate into the AV-8B a multi-role radar system similiar to
that of the F-16.
     Thesis. Statement: The Marines and Navy have incorporated the
AV-8B into fleet operations without providing it with its full
combat potential.
I.   Mission and Tasks
     A.   Defense of the ATF
     B.   Falklands Experience
     C.   Helicopter Escort
II.  Equipment
     A.   Current Systems
     B.   Deficiencies
     C.   New Night Harrier
III. F-16 Comparisons
     A.   Multi-role Aircraft
     B.   Radar Systems
     C.   Option for the AV-8B
     The AV8B is well suited for limited combat operations in
the maritime environment. The U.S. Marine Corps has adopted the
AV8B as its primary close air support aircraft(CAS) for Marine
Air Ground Task Force amphibious operations to replace the A4M
Skyhawk and the older AV8A/C. But, the Marines and Navy have
incorporated the AV8B into fleet operations and expected it
to complete an array of missions without providing it with its
full combat potential.
     First, we must examine the mission and tasks of the AV8B.
FMFM 51 states the following missions for the AV8B squadron:
          attack and destroy surface targets under day and
          night VMC(Visual Meterological Conditions), escort
          helicopters, and conduct such other air operations
          as may be directed.
FMFM 51 further assigns the following tasks to the AV8B
         ...conduct close air support, conduct armed recon
          naissance and strikes against enemy installations,
          conduct air defense operations within aircraft cap
          ability, conduct armed escort of helicopters...
          Although every squadron commander eagerly accepts
          responsibility for his unit being combat ready to conduct
          missions and tasks, the reality is that increasing emphasis is
          being placed on doing more than just the basic mission. Recent
          examples of this are:
          1) emergency defense of the Amphibious Task
          Force (EADATF)
          2) helicopter escort with emphasis on air-to-air
          3) point defense of airfields
In recent major joint amphibious exercises such as Northern
Wedding and Solid Shield, AV8B's were often assigned the mission
to provide EADATF when Navy Carrier Battle Groups (CVBG) were not
available or to augment the existing air defense plan of the
task force. In particular, Commander Amphibiuos Task Force (CATF) ,
relied on AV8B's to be on deck alert armed with AIM9L
Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, ready to conduct quick notice
deck launches and intercepts of incoming enemy aircraft or
missiles. Although this concept was not originally intended
for first generation AV8A's, the concept did, nevertheless,
evolve through innovative planning and operational experience
by deployed amphibious forces. In fact, in some instances, AV8's
were CATF' s only capable air defense aircraft.
     How Does the EADATF concept work and is there a fallacy in
it? Normally the ATF is built around the landing assault
helicopter ship(LHA) , amphibious command ship(LCC) , dock land
ship (LSD) , tank land ship (LST) , and amphibious transport dock
ship(LPD,, all of which rely on escort ships for primary
protection. The escort ships, comprised of antisubmarine
warfare (ASW) , anti surface warfare (ASUW) , and anti air warfare (AAW)
ships, are tasked to combine their special capabilities against
enemy submarines, surface combatants, and aircraft. AAW ships
will provide the ATF with air search radar coverage out to about
160 nautical miles from the LHA, which is the center of the ATF.
If an incoming aircraft is identified hostile, alert orders are
issued to surface to air missile (SAM) crews and preparations are
made to launch the AV8's. Time to issue the orders and launch of
aircraft is usually 10 minutes. This should seem to be ample time
to intercept incoming aircraft. But, as is often seen in
exercises and tactical training, very low flying aircraft, acting
out the role of the enemy,using high speed and modern tactics,
can fool and avoid current air defense systems. Often during
cruise missile profile runs, "enemy" aircraft have reached within
2030 nautical miles before being detected by radar or the naked
eye. These "enemy" aircraft would have already been within
optimum antiship missile firing range. Harriers, equipped with an
airtoair radar, operating in conjunction with AAW ships, could
identify, track ,and prosecute those incoming aircraft that have
penetrated the "pickett" before those aircraft could reach lethal
range of the ATF, particularly the LHA. So, one must seriously
question the capability of the AV8 Harrier to defend the ATF.
     The axiom of gaining air superiority in the amphibious
objective area (AOA) is nothing new. The theory was time tested
in World War II during most of the Pacific island campaigns
conducted by the Navy, Army, and Marines. AOA air superiority is
considered essential today in Navy and Marine doctrine. But air
superiority, or air parity, may also be required during the
transit to the AOA, especially if CVBG's are needed elsewhere at
the time. Obviously, the Royal Navy was aware of the Argentine
air threat, determined the odds and entered the Falkland's
conflict with a calculated risk. The Royal Navy had deactivated
their large carrier with air defense F-4's prior to the Falklands
War. Yet, though they knew the Argentines were capable of
mounting a formidable air attack on the AOA, the British
nevertheless planned to gain the requisite air superiority in
order to establ ish the AOA and put forces ahore.
     Unfortunately they did not. The Royal Navy's inability to
maintain clear, lasting air superiority was predicated on several
factors ,only one of which was under British control. The
political factor that drastically influenced combat losses on the
British side was London's decision not to attack mainland
Argentina air bases. Other factors such as the lack of nearby
supporting land bases, in-flight refueling over the AOA,
relatively short range of the British Harrier vis-a-vis Argentine
aircraft, and the absence of the British carrier which could have
tipped the balance heavily in the British favor. Finally, the
absence of integrated electronic warfare (EW) support to
identify and track incoming aircraft placed a heavy burden on the
few Sea Harriers defending the fleet.
     But the Sea Harrier did a most commendable job nonetheless,
thanks to the courage and professionalism of the British pilots.
The Vertical Takeoff and Landing(VSTOL) aircraft, with the
mission and capability to defend the task force, came of age
during the Falklands War. This is a valuable battle tested
concept for the U.S. Marine Corps to contemplate. The British
sailed from England to the Falklands with 20 VSTOL aircraft, 8 on
the HMS Invincible and 12 on the HMS Hermes. This is quite
similiar to the way our ATF's are configured. Additional VSTOL's
flew aboard containerf ships or air refueled for the trip to the
South Atlantic. Once in the AOA, the Harriers conducted Combat
Air Patrol (CAP) and strip alert missions. They were able to
accomplish this because of the excellent air-to-air systems
incorporated in their aircraft.
     Now that we've studied the EADATF problem, let's turn to the
area of the AV-8B's escort mission. One of the Marine Corps' most
potent weapon is mobility. The ground combat element (GCE)
commander has at his disposal numerous vehicles by which to
employ his troops and weapons systems. The assault helicopter
offers the GCE commander maximum flexibility to hit the enemy at
the chosen time and place. Further, the helicopter offers the GCE
commander the flexibi lty to strike deeper into enemy territory
than ever before. This is the essence of maneuver warfare. The
enemy will come to fear the hel icopterborne assault and will
throw his weight to counter it and to destroy it short of the
objective. So, the hel icopterborne force needs maximum surprise
and protection to be successful
     AV-8B's routinely exercise and deploy with helicopter units
and practice escort operations along with the AH-1 Cobra. Escort
operations have become a matter of necessity for all helicopter
assaults. The AV-8B will normally rendezvous with the helicopter
force at a predetermined point prior to penetration of hostile
territory. The AV-8B will be responsible to: 1) suppress enemy
ground air defenses along the ingress and egress routes, 2)
conduct preparation fires on the landing zone, 3) defend against
enemy interceptor aircraft. The AV-8B will normally operate
within visual range of the helicopter force. However, if the
force is attacked by Soviet fighter aircraft equipped with
advanced air-to-air missiles, the advantage would be to the
attacking aircraft. The reason is because he can launch his
heat-seeking or radar guided missiles before becoming visible to
the AV-8B escort pilot. In the heat of the battle, the AV-8B
pilot will be concentrating on keeping sight of the friendly
helicopter force, ground check points, dangerous terrain,
other escort aircraft, enemy air defenses, as well as any
incoming enemy aircraft, all while dodging surface-to-air
missiles(SAM) and antiaircraft artillery. The AV-8B pilot,
therefore, must have the assistance of an air-to-air radar to
help him acquire incoming enemy aircraft. The pilot will not be
required to be "glued" to the radar screen. Audio and visual cues
will assist to get his attention when an enemy aircraft is picked
up by the radar system. He can therefore devote the required
attention to flying his aircraft and maintaining situational
     These escort problems will be aggravated by the introduction
of the MV-22 Osprey. The MV-22, programmed to replace the CH-46
troop transport helicopter, is a tilt-rotor aircraft capable of
conventional forward flight and is designed to reach speeds in
excess of 300kts. A problem becomes obvious at once. Since
all the AH-1's are only capable of 150kts, the MV-22 could
quickly and easily outdistance his fellow helicopter escort
before even reaching hostile territory. The prime advantage to
the MV-22 Osprey is its capability to launch with assault troops
from amphibious ships positioned over the horizon from the
objective area.. This will most likely increase the demand for
fixed-wing escort aircraft, namely the AV-813.
     Also because of the MV-22's extended range capability, those
problems associated with going deep into enemy territory will be
amplified. The enemy will see the MV-22 assault force as even a
greater threat than conventional helicopterborne force and
therefore will strive harder to defeat it. That means more grond
air defenses and enemy aircraft will be dedicated to defeat the
MV-22. Due to its greater speed, the MV-22 will close the gap
towards its target sooner. These new characteristics highlight
the necessity for the AV-8B to be equipped with an air-to-air
radar to sucessfully defend the MV-22.
     The AV-8B is currently equipped with the Litton AN/ASN-130A
inertial navigation system, Garrett Airresearch CP-1471/A digital
air data computer, Smith Industries SU-128/A dual combining glass
heads-up display(HUD) , and CP -1450/A display computer, IP-1318/A
CRT Kaiser digital display indicator. The Royual Air Force(RAF)
GR MK 5 is also equipped with the Ferranti moving map display.
The primary weapons delivery sensor system for the AV-8B and the
GR MK 5 is the Hughes Aircraft AN/ASB-19(V)2 angle rate bombing
system set (ARBS) , which is mounted in the nose and includes a
dual-mode(television and laser) target seeker/tracker. This
system functions in conjunction with the digital display
indicator and an onboard weapons stores management system. The
greatest advantage of this equipment over the older AV-8A is that
it provides the pilot with timely solutions to complex
navigational questions during low level, high speed flight. It
can all be displayed on the HUD at the critical time, allowing
the pilot to keep his eyes out of the cockpit.
     But there are still major drawbacks despite all of this
advanced technology. Even though the ARBS gives the age old iron
bombs a new lethality, ARBS is by no means new technology. In
fact, ARBS was introduced in 1957 and eventually became
operational with A-4M aircraft in the 1970's. The major concern
of the ARBS is its effectiveness on the moden battlefield. The
system relies on a TV tracking system that is designed to be used
in conditions of good light and good visibility. Using the TV
picturey under those conditions, the pilot is able to see his
target due to contrasting features. The pilot activates the
system, over lays the bombfall line on  the  target,  and  presses  the
weapons  release button when a solution cue moves into the critical
position on  the  HUD.  This  means  a  target  can  only  be  chosen  when
the  pilot  can  clearly  distinguish  what  he's  seeing.  The  modern
day  battlefield  may  likely  become  filled  with  smoke  and  thick
haze,  foregoing  any  chance  of  CAS  pilots  seeing  their  targets
that  are  difficult  enough  to  discern  in  clear  daylight.
Additionally,  the  ARBS  laser  system  is  also  vulnerable  during
hazy  and  dusty  conditions.  The  laser  is  designed  to  receive  a
refracted  transmitted  beam  that  is  designated  onto  a  target  by  a
manual land-based  system  or  by  an  airborne  designator.  Again,
like  the  TV  mode,  the  system works  well  in  good  visibility,  but
the  low  intensity  laser  will  be  easily  diffused  by  dust  particles
preventing  the  receiver  from processing  the  signal.  Today's
modern  battlefield,  with  all  of  its  artillery  and  armor,  will not
be characterized by solitude and clear sky blue conditions.
     For night operations, the ARBS has little effect. The pilot
is basically required to use a standby reticle bombing site
incorporated with the HUD. Much of the accuracy of the day system
is lost, thus limiting the effectiveness of the AV-8B for night
CAS missions. However, the aircraft still will be able to deliver
ordnance at night, but only by VIET NAM standards.
     A program to develop the night attack version of the AV-8B
was announced in 1984. The prototype for the "Night Harrier"
first flew in the spring of 1987. This version of the Harrier was
created as an extensively retrofitted AV-8B. The following
modifications were required to the existing airframe: a forward
looking infra-red(FLIR) system vice the ARBS, changes in cockpit
lighting, and a modified version of the Smith Industries HUD and
display processor. This modification is designed to provide the
capability to deliver ordnance in reduced visibility conditions.
     However, a couple of problems are readily apparent with the
"Night Harrier." First, the FLIR system has been demonstrated to
work well during night but only when favorable meterological
conditions exist. The FLIR is not capable of penetrating solid
cloud layers, thick haze, or precipitation with enough power to
ensure target acquisition, let alone lock-on. Thus, to get around
this problem, pilots will have to fly below the weather to get
close to a target solution position. Coupled with the restricted
visibility of night vision goggles, high speed, enemy air
defenses, high "G" maneuvering in close proximity to the ground,
the pilot's best hope is to get somewhere "near" the target area.
Next, the pin-point, fine tuning skills required to maneuver the
aircraft to the exact release point, during the weapons delivery,
will be overcome by fear, anxiety, and pilot overload.
     Secondly, the Night Harrier will possess less of a
capability to defend itself against enemy aircrasft than the day
Harrier. You can't hide from or maneuver against an opponent you
can't see. The FLIR, and night vision goggles1 (NVG's) will be
useless in any air-to-air engagement. The FLIR will not descern
opponents' aircraft altitude, bearing, or speed simply due to the
FLIR's range limitation and the lack of a suitable data
processor to display air-to-air information. The current NVG's
identified for use in the Night Harrier are unsuitable for high
"G" maneuvering. The heavy, cumbersome goggles will slide down
the pilot's face or prevent the pilot from being able to keep his
head up while he's outmaneuvering enemy aircraft or incoming
missiles. The pilot's first reaction will be to throw off the
goggles. Then, if he wants to use low altitude tactics to escape,
he's in a quandry.
     A good example of advanced technology integrated into a
combined air-to-surface and air-to-air platform can be seen in
the U.S.Air Force's F-16. As a result of the 1973 Arab-Israeli
War and the Israeli's tremendous success against the Syrian Air
Force, the U.S  Air Force began a series improvement program in
the early 1980's that expanded the single seat F-16 multi-role
flexibility to perform precision strike, night attack, and beyond
visual range(BVR) intercept missions. To do this, the F-16 is now
equipped with a Westinghouse APG-68 pulse doppler range and angle
rate track radar in the aircraft nose section. This radar is
substantially improved over the APG-66 radar, originally
installed in the F-16 in the 1970's. The major change is the
incorporation into one unit of all digital processing activities.
The APG-68 makes the F-16 capable of delivering air-to-surface or
air-to-air weapons in all weather conditons. The radar is
compatible with delivery of various weapons such as: 25mm or 30mm
cannons, rockets, conventional bombs, special weapons, laser
guided and electro-optically guided bombs, AIM-9 sidewinders.
In the air-to-surface mode the radar is capable of acquiring
moving as well as stationary targets. The air-to-air mode allows
the pilot to track up to 10 targets simultaneously with the
option of selecting target engagement priorities based on type
and number of air-to-air missles on board.
     What makes the F-16 a potent dual role aircraft? If you
consider its capabilities, the answer is clear. The F-16 is
capable of delivering conventionaly or specially guided ordnance
on high value targets beyond the forward edge of the battle
area(FEBA) . Enroute to the target, the F-16 pilot will have the
capability to air search for any enemy aircraft posing a threat
to the attack force. Most importantly, the F-16 pilot is capable
of engaging incoming aircraft without having to acquire the enemy
visually or without having to engage in aerial combat and getting
"lured" off the primary mission. After all, the success of the
air-to-surface mission hinges on getting to the target and
getting there on time. The self-defense capability of the F-16
greatly enhances survivability coming off target and egressing
the battlefield area. Historically, this has been the most
vulnerable point, the graveyard of tactical aircraft, when the
pilot's guard is down. Survivability means fewer combat losses,
which means more aircraft for the next mission day. Enhancing
survivability enhances success.
     What conclusions can be drawn by compaing the mission and
capabilities of the AV-8B versus the lessons of the British and
current aircraft such as the F-16? First, air-to-air capability
will be paramount in any mid-intensity conflict. The U.S. and her
allies recognize the growing air threat and continue to put more
emphasis on sophisticated air-to-air systems in new aircraft.
Although the AV-8B is well equipped to do its primary mission of
day close air support, it is significantly lacking in its ability
to defend itself and the ATF. It would seem that the success
enjoyed by the British Navy with 28 air-to-air kills versus 5
aircraft lost to air or ground fire, proves a point. Harriers
equipped with an air-to-air radar enjoy a distinct advantage when
operating from amphibious platforms. They can launch from the
ship and shoot to kill before the ATF, namely the LHA, is
seriosly threatened.
     Secondly, the multi-role radar of the F-16 is a success
story to be reckoned with. While maintaining its primary
capability to accurately deliver ordnance during either day or
night and under limited visibility conditions, the F-16 is still
available to perform secondary roles as a fleet or airfield
defender capable of BVR. In fact, Emerson Ltd. has manufactured
the APG-69 multi-role radar that is specifically compatible with
the AV-8B. The Marine Corps should seriously consider this radar
for future AV-8B's.
     The AV-8B should be tasked to do the mission it is fully
capable of doing. If it's more that commanders want the airplane
to do, then it's more, new, appropriate equipmemt that the
airplane should get to do the job.
1  HQMC, USMC, Doctrine for  Amphibious Operations,LFM-
     01,(Washington,D.C., 1983) p.2-5.
2  P.J. Ryan, "Falklands Fallout," Marine Corps  Gazette,  June,
     1983,  p.47.
3  LFM-01,  p.7-8.
4  Ryan,  p.48.
5  James  Wheeler,  "Fire  Support  fohr  Over-the-Horizon  Assault,"
     Marine Corps Gazette, Dec, 1986.
6  Jane's Yearbooks, "AV-8B," Jane's All the Worlds Aircraft
     1986  7, Jane's Publishing Co, 1986, p.121.
7  J.R. Lehman, "Here Comes the AV-8B," Marine Corps Gazette,
     May, 1984, p.67.
8  Jane's Yearbooks, "APG-68: Radar," Jane's Weapons Systems
     1987-88 Jane's Publishing Co., 1987, p. 867.
9  Jane's Aircraft 1986-87, p.411.
Jane's Yearbooks.Jane's All the World's Aircraft 1986-87.
     London, Eng. Jane's Publishing Co. LTD. 1986.
Jane's Yearbooks.Jane's Weapons Systems 1987-88. London, Eng.
     Jane's Publishing Co. LTD. 1987
Lehman, J.R., Maj. USMC. " Here Comes the AV-8B." Marine Corps
     Gazette, May, 1984.
Sweetman, William. "New Look for F-14 and A-6 for the 1990's."
     Interavia, 2/1986.
U.S. Marine Corps. Commandant of the Marine Corps. Headquarters
     Marine Corps. Doctrine for Amphibious Operations, LFM-01.
     Washington D.C., 1983.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Center.
     Antiair Warfare, OH 5-5. Quantico, 1987.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Education and Development Center.
     Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1. Quantico, 1979
Wheeler, James R. , Maj, USMC. "Fire Support for Over-the-Horizon
     Assault." Marine Corps Gazette, December, 1986.

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