The USMC Harrier II fleet is set to have its service life extended to 2030, with the F-35 Lightning II now further off entering service than originally expected.
Previously, the Marine Corps' AV-8Bs were due to be phased out in 2027 but, now, they'll remain in service for a minimum of three more years.
The USMC would have got its first F-35Bs this year but, now, their arrival's been put back to 2015 at best. Therefore, the USMC Harriers are being upgraded and in their favour is an abundance of extra airframes, spare parts and support equipment recently obtained from the UK, which no longer operates the Harrier.
The UK's Harrier Force was retired in December 2010 as a result of the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review). The then-redundant airframes were initially stored but, shortly afterwards, sold to the US, after it became apparent that the F-35 programme was not proceeding as expected. Some now consider it ironic that the F-35's predecessor is, in effect, temporarily taking the new aircraft's place within the USMC.
The AV-8B VSTOL (Vertical Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft is a development of early Harrier models which, in turn, led to the UK's GR5, GR7 and GR9 versions. It features a redesigned wing and fuselage, a raised cockpit and other aerodynamic and systems enhancements, along with a weapons hardpoints increase.
Introduced in 1985, the AV-8B Harrier II remains in widespread USMC service and also equips the Spanish and Italian navies.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce vectored-thrust turbofan, it has a top speed of Mach 1 and a range of 1,200 miles. Its weapons include AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick and AGM-84 Harpoon air-to-ground missiles, CBU-100 cluster bombs and Paveway laser-guided bombs.
The AV-8B Harrier II's operational career includes deployments in the Iraq War, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Odyssey Dawn (Libya).