A GR9 Harrier lands at RAF Cottesmore following a retirement ceremony in 2010. Britain retired its joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier aircraft late last year. (U.K. Ministry of Defence)
17 Nov 2011 By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS DefenseNews
An official announcement could come within days of Britain's sale of its remaining Harrier jump jets to the U.S. Marine Corps, but sources are saying privately the purchase will be strictly for spare parts and logistic support, and not a move to increase the operational fleet.
"We have no intent at any point to ever fly any of these" British jets, said one U.S. source.
The two-part deal was revealed Nov. 10 during a conference in New York, when Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, chief of the U.S. Navy's Supply Corps, told attendees he had negotiated a $50 million deal to purchase the spare parts inventory from the British.
A separate deal, he said, was being negotiated by the U.S. Navy's Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to acquire all 74 remaining GR Mark 9 and Mark 9A Harriers and their spare Rolls-Royce engines from the British.
Neither NAVAIR nor the British Ministry of Defence would officially comment on the negotiations, but sources on both sides of the Atlantic confirmed the deal was in the works.
Heinrich said the spare parts deal was worth $50 million, but no value for the larger aircraft and engine deal has been revealed.
One U.S. source, however, said that acquisition of the British aircraft and their spares could save the Marines up to $1 billion over the life of the fleet. The Marines plan to operate the AV-8B at least until 2025, when conversion to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is expected to be completed.
Britain retired its joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier aircraft late last year in one of the most controversial moves in a series of defense reductions, which also cut the aircraft carriers that operated the jets, other warships, maritime patrol planes and personnel.
British and U.S. Harrier II aircraft had a high degree of commonality from the beginning. The planes were developed and built in a joint arrangement between British Aerospace - now BAE Systems - and McDonnell Douglas, now a division of Boeing. While each company built its own wings, all forward sections of the British and American Harrier IIs were built by McDonnell in St. Louis, while British Aerospace built the fuselage sections aft of the cockpit.
"All the planes have to fit together," Lon Nordeen, a Harrier expert and author of several books about the aircraft, pointed out.
"There are significant differences between Royal Air Force GR Mark 9s and Marine AV-8Bs, which would be a challenge to overcome," Nordeen added. "However, the engines and spare parts would be very valuable for long-term sustainment of the Marine Corps Harrier fleet."
U.S. Navy and Marine Corps sources would not comment last week on media queries about their plans for the British jets, leading to speculation that the aircraft might be made operational.