The AV-8B V/STOL strike aircraft was designed to replace the AV-8A and the A-4M light attack aircraft. The Marine Corps requirement for a V/STOL light attack force has been well documented since the late 1950's. Combining tactical mobility, responsiveness, reduced operating cost and basing flexibility, both afloat and ashore, V/STOL aircraft are particularly well-suited to the special combat and expeditionary requirements of the Marine Corps. The AV-8BII+ features the APG-65 Radar common to the F/A-18, as well as all previous systems and features common to the AV-8BII.
The AV-8B Harrier is a single-seat, light attack aircraft that provides offensive air support to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). By virtue of its Vertical/Short Take-Off or Landing (V/STOL) capability, the AV-8B can operate from a variety of amphibious ships, rapidly constructed expeditionary airfields, forward sites (e.g., roads), and damaged conventional airfields. This makes the aircraft particularly well-suited for providing dedicated close air support.
The mission of the VMA STOVL squadron is to attack and destroy surface and air targets, to escort helicopters, and to conduct other such air operations as may be directed. Specific tasks of the AV-8B HARRIER II include:
- Conduct close air support using conventional and specific weapons.
- Conduct deep air support, to include armed reconnaissance and air interdiction, using conventional and specific weapons.
- Conduct offensive and defensive antiair warfare. This includes combat air patrol, armed escort missions, and offensive missions against enemy ground-to-air defenses, all within the capabilities of the aircraft.
- Be able to operate and deliver ordnance at night and to operate under instrument flight conditions.
- Be able to deploy for extended operations employing aerial refueling.
- Be able to deploy to and operate from carriers and other suitable seagoing platforms, advanced bases, expeditionary airfields, and remote tactical landing sites.
The primary mission of the Harrier as employed by the Royal Air Force is that of a ground-attack fighter-bomber. In this role, a variety of external ordnance with maximum weight up to 5000 pounds may be carried, as well as two 30-mm cannons. The Royal Navy employs the aircraft in a fleet air-defense role; in this capacity, Sidewinder missiles are carried in addition to the cannon and various external stores. In naval use, the Harrier employs a short takeoff technique from a small carrier equipped with a ski-jump launching ramp; after its mission and at a much reduced weight, the aircraft makes a vertical landing on the carrier. This mode of operation is referred to as STOVL, short takeoff and vertical landing. Although generally available information is far from complete, the Harrier was apparently employed with great effectiveness in the Falkland Islands dispute between Great Britain and Argentina in 1982.
The improved version of the Harrier, known as the AV-8B, was manufactured in the United States by McDonnell Douglas under an agreement with the British Aerospace Corporation. In the various trials, demonstrations, and special exercises conducted, the AV-8B's high availability and its successful completion of operational objectives in highly restrictive environments confirmed that it could be effectively maintained and supported. The supportability of any weapon system can be illustrated by its performance over an extended period of time in terms of Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) and Maintenance Man-hours per Flight Hour (MMH/FH). The AV-8B proved to be a supportable weapon system with performance data showed a steady improvement in the supportability factors throughout the life cycle of the aircraft.
Since the aircraft entered the inventory as a mature, off-shore weapons system, there were initial programmatic difficulties in provisioning which plagued the airplane with a high Not Mission Capable Supply (NMCS) rate. Indeed, through the years, the operationally ready rate improved and continued to improve to a rate that was favorable when compared to other first line aircraft. Logistics support continued to challenge the Marines throughout the Day, Night Attack and Radar aircraft programs. Now with an ongoing remanufacture program for selected Harriers in the inventory will provide new engines and radar, a Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), moving map and night vision goggles. These improvements will give the Harrier a day and night attack capability, and will extend the service life into the next century as well as greatly improving warfighting capability and logistics support ability.
The British Aerospace Harrier was used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy [until 2010], the US Marine Corps, and the navies of Spain and India, which fly the AV-8B. The Spanish Navy had nine Day Attack and eight Radar aircraft. The Italian Navy had two Trainer and sixteen Radar aircraft. Both Spanish and Italian Pilots and maintenance personnel train with USMC personnel to ensure commonality between forces. There have been no Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of the Night Attack Aircraft and the AV-8B has not been sold to any other military force.
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