Harriers for Taiwan?

Reports suggest Republic of China Air Force has looked at a VSTOL requirement

Reports from the US suggest that Taiwan may be given the opportunity to purchase US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier IIs as they are retired. It is thought that the Republic of China Air Force favours F-35Bs, however, the Harrier II may be offered as a short-take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) alternative.

It is however, worth noting the enormous expense in operating and maintaining these aircraft. Thailand procured former-Spanish AV-8S Harriers and was never really ever able to realise their potential in service.

US Marine Corps will now retire its Harrier IIs in 2025. The Marine Harrier community, with its newly enhanced air defense capability, was previously expected to outlast the fatigued ‘classic’ Hornet squadrons. However, Marine Corps modernization plans and the push towards the F-35 Lightning II have turned that previous plan on its head. The Marine Corps TACAIR plan for 2015 is focused on paving the way to the F-35. Each squadron transition is laid out clearly in this roadmap to secure the future of Marine Corps fast-jet air power.

The Marines have flown these charismatic attack jets since 1970, when Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) ‘Nightmares’ first received the original AV-8A, which was broadly based on the British Harrier GR1. Although its procurement was far from popular, the Harrier proved a good fit with the expeditionary nature of Marine Corps doctrine. Above all, the Harrier brought the ability to project air power from small-deck carriers and from austere landing strips, supporting the Marines on the beaches. Despite poor original performance and continued concerns over its meager payload, the Harrier carved a niche for itself within Marine Aviation history.

Harriers Train Aboard the USS Boxer from SldInfo.com on Vimeo.

Keeping the Harrier relevant

Lt Gen Jon ‘Dog’ Davis, the deputy commandant for Marine Aviation, says the service must ‘try to get the best utility out of old airplanes’. He wants every platform to be a sensor, a shooter and a sharer. For the Harrier, this aspiration is set to be completed.

As with other US military types, the Harrier II has traveled on a journey of Operational Flight Program (OFP) upgrades throughout its illustrious career. Of significance, especially given Gen Davis’ comments, was the H2.0 OFP fielded in September 2005, which integrated the Northrop Grumman Litening targeting pod. H2.0 allows ordnance to be employed against whatever the pod is tracking, as well as allowing pod-derived target co-ordinates to be passed to JDAM. The Harrier became a sensor as well as a shooter. A video downlink transmitter installed internally in the pod allows for real-time streaming video to be sent to a ROVER ground station. This capability greatly improves communication between JTACs and strike aircraft as well as greatly reducing the possibility of collateral damage and fratricide.

The 500lb GBU-38 JDAM served to enhance the AV-8B’s weapons load-out, and the subsequent smart triple-ejector racks allow multiple GBUs to be carried on each station and increase weapons load. In 2007 the Marine Corps received clearance to use the GBU-51 Dual-Mode Laser-Guided Bomb (DMLGB). The Litening AT can now be mounted on the centerline station (even with the 25mm gun installed), freeing up an underwing station for another weapon.

From 2009, the H4.0 OFP paved the way for the AIM-120 AMRAAM to become a new addition to the Marine Corps Harrier arsenal (carried on stations 2 and 6 only).

Completing the Harrier’s sensor suite is the ability to carry the Intrepid Tiger II communications intelligence and jamming pod. Conceived as an emergency measure to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs), it can be controlled by the pilot or by ground forces to intercept and disrupt enemy radio communications, and jam IED detonators.

In 2015, the Harrier is to transition support from Boeing to NAVSUP (Naval Supply Systems Command) and a number of new upgrade initiatives will kick in. The jet will receive new AN/ALE-47(V)2 countermeasures dispensers, AN/ALR-67 radar warning receivers, and AN/ALQ-164 electronic countermeasures pods. The Harriers will also be modified with variable message format terminals, full Link 16 datalink capability and possibly the Tactical Targeting Network Technologies high-speed datalink. The Harrier is becoming a sharer.

With full integration of the fourth-generation Litening pod, AIM-120C/D AMRAAM and AIM-9X Block II the Harrier will be at the leading edge of Marine TACAIR technology.

The full version of this feature appears in the April 2015 edition of Combat Aircraft:www.combataircraft.net/view_issue.asp?ID=6382

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