The U.S. Marine Corps has extended the retirement date of its AV-8B Harrier IIs in increments until 2030, and most of the fleet will remain active through 2027, according to Boeing, which supports the 1980s-generation strike aircraft.
Harriers were originally scheduled for retirement in 2015. Julie Praiss, Boeing Defense vice president of tactical aircraft and weapons support, said sustaining the vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) jet for another 17 years will be challenging. Seventy-five percent of Harrier suppliers are UK-based. With the UK government’s 2010 decision to retire its BAE Systems Harrier GR9s as part of its strategic defense and security review, the supplier base has diminished by about a third, forcing Boeing to look for different supply sources.
“These are all things that become harder when you have a smaller inventory,” said Praiss, who spoke to aviation reporters May 21 in St. Louis.
The Marines currently have 134 Harriers, based at the Cherry Point, N.C., and Yuma, Ariz., air stations and the China Lake, Calif., naval air weapons station, according to Boeing. Six Harriers were destroyed and two severely damaged in a September 2012 attack by the Taliban at Camp Bastion, a British military base in Afghanistan. The Spanish navy has 17 jets and the Italian navy 16.
In June 2007, Boeing signed a five-year $258 million performance-based logistics contract, with an option for an additional five years, to support the three-nation Harrier fleet. Praiss said the company currently provides $80 million in annual contract support for the U.S. Naval Supply Systems Command, working with the Defense Logistics Agency, which provides materiel management. Rolls-Royce, manufacturer of the aircraft’s Pegasus F402-RR-406 turbofan, is responsible for sustaining the engine.
Boeing has also supported initial evaluation of potential capability upgrades for the Harrier, including Link 16 interoperability, weapons expansion to AIM-120 air-to-air missiles, pilot’s helmet cueing and “radar relevance and sustainment” beyond the Raytheon APG-65 radar fitted to the aircraft as part of the AV-8BII Plus upgrade. “We’re here to keep the aircraft relevant, reliable, safe and sustainable,” Praiss said.