Home » Aviation » U.S. Marines to Retire Harrier Fleet Earlier Than Planned, Extend Life of Hornets


U.S. Marines to Retire Harrier Fleet Earlier Than Planned, Extend Life of Hornets

AV-8B Harriers sit on the flight deck at night aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Oct. 3, 2014. US Navy Photo

AV-8B Harriers sit on the flight deck at night aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5) on Oct. 3, 2014. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Marine Corps will phase out the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump jet by 2025 — about five years earlier than planned — and will instead extend the life of its fleet of aging Boeing F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters, according to the service’s recently released 2015 aviation plan.

In previous years, the service had said it would replace its increasingly older fleet of original model Boeing F/A-18A – D Hornet strike fighters before retiring the Harriers before replacing both fighters with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Now, the Harrier will be retired in 2025 and the Hornets will hang on until 2029 for the active duty Marines.

“The TACAIR 2030 Roadmap is a departure from the previous AVPLAN’s TACAIR transition order,” reads the Marine Corps’ 2015 aviation plan.
“The F-35 transition continues per the program of record, while the AV-8B and F/A-18 order of transition has changed.”

The Marine short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B is planned to operational in the summer of 2015 will eventually replace the Harrier.

The Hornets will finally leave the Marine inventory in 2030 when the reserve component transitions to the F-35B.

An AV-8B Harrier from the Black Sheep of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214 on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Aug. 4, 2013. US Navy Photo

An AV-8B Harrier from the Black Sheep of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214 on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Aug. 4, 2013. US Navy Photo

“Visibility and Management of Operating and Supporting Cost (VAMOSC) analysis estimated changing transition order would result in cost avoidance of over one billion dollars through 2030,” the document reads.

The first Harrier squadron to transition to the F-35B will be VMA-211, which will make the switch in Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016). If all goes according to plan, the entire West Coast Harrier force will transition to the JSF by 2020.

The remaining East Coast Harriers will be retired 2025. In the meantime—since the AV-8B still has another 11 years to go in service—the Marines will focus on improving the fleet’s readiness.

“The AV-8B program will continue to focus on readiness by solving chronic parts inventory shortfalls. In 2015 the aircraft will transition support from Boeing to NAVSUP [Naval Supply Systems Command],” the document reads.

The Marines will also continue to modernize the aging jet. The jet will receive new ALE-47 V2 countermeasures dispenser, ALR-67 radar warning receivers and ALQ-164 electronic countermeasures pods. The Harriers will also be modified with variable message format terminals, full Link-16 data-link capability and possibly the Tactical Targeting Network Technologies high-speed data-link.
With full integration of the fourth generation Litening pod, it will be able to self-designate the AGM-65E missiles and GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

The Marines are also planning on integrating the AIM-120C/D AMRAAM and AIM-9X Block II air-to-air missiles onto the AV-8B. Flight testing of the AMRAAM onboard the Harrier is slated for 2016.

US Marine Corps tactical aviation plan into FY 2032 from the service's new 2015 aviation plan.

US Marine Corps tactical aviation plan into FY 2032 from the service’s new 2015 aviation plan.

Meanwhile, the Hornet fleet will have to be modified stay in service. The Navy and Marines have implemented a Center Barrel Replacement Plus (CBR+) program to increase the service life of 200 Lot 17 and below Hornets.

Further, a High Flight Hour (HFH) inspection has extended the life of 110 F/A-18 A-D aircraft beyond 8000 hours with another 129 aircraft awaiting inspections. In addition to those efforts, a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) will modify about 150 hand selected F/A-18 C/D aircraft so that they will be able to fly up to 10,000 hours.
The SLEP program has run into serious delays because of personnel shortages resulting from the sequestration cuts to the Pentagon as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) , several sources told USNI News.

The problem is so severe that when the Department of the Navy pulled engineers from the Super Hornet program to help resolve the issue, it has also caused a severe readiness shortfall on the F/A-18E/F program, USNI News understands.

An F/A-18C Hornet, assigned to the Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMA) 312, launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on Oct. 13, 2014. US Navy Photo

An F/A-18C Hornet, assigned to the Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMA) 312, launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) on Oct. 13, 2014. US Navy Photo

The Marines acknowledged part of the problem in the document: “The USMC F/A-18 A-D community is enduring a sustained shortage in excess of 40 aircraft fleet wide due to “Out Of Reporting” (OOR) maintenance.”
The Marine Hornets are also going to be upgraded with new computers and displays. The jets will also receive new weapons.

Those include the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS), AIM-120D and AIM-9X Block II. The Marines will also, “pursue minimum of two stand-off Net Enabled Weapons.”

Both the Hornet and Harrier—along with Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler–will be replaced by the F-35. The Marines hope to buy a total of 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs.

The Marines’ plans is to have nine squadrons with 16 F-35Bs, five squadrons of 10 F-35Bs and four squadrons of carrier-based F-35Cs with ten jets each. There would also eventually be two reserve squadron of 10 F-35B aircraft each and two 25-aircraft F-35B training units.

It will take the Marines until 2030 to completely transition to the JSF, but the Marines hope to boost production of the jet.

“Increasing F-35B production from 20 to 24 aircraft per year would reduce the Marine TACAIR transition timeline by four years,” the document said.

  • This will come back and bite the USMC down the road

  • Dave Canter

    Why do some -B squadrons have 16 jets and some non-reserve squadrons have only 10 jets? I understand why the FRS has a larger number but wonder what’s up with the 10 jet sqdns.

    • Jake

      My guess would be that the 16 plane squadrons are earmarked to be split up for MEU debts while the 10 plane squadrons will do the UDP deployments.

      • Dave Canter

        Thanks Jake. I don’t have much knowledge of how the Harrier fleet is used, so that info helps.

    • Secundius

      @ Dave Canter.

      Originally F-14A/B/C/D Tomcat’s and the short-lived A-14D Bobcat’s, squadron had 14-planes in them, when the F/A-18A/B/C Hornet’s, became operational. It was reduced to 12-plane squadrons, and then the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet/Rhino’s became operational. And the number was dropped again to a 10-plane squadron. And the Marine Corps had a “Composite Squadron” of AV-8B Harrier II’s of 6-planes. One source say’s it has something to do from going from 12-Aircraft Carrier’s to 10-Aircraft Carrier’s. You guess is as good as mine.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        The Marines never had F-14s of any version in their inventory. The Marines did at one time have 20 plane Harrier squadrons.

        • Secundius

          @ Chesapeakeguy.

          That’s where the Very-Short Lived Grumman A-14D Bobcat’s came from. Ground Attack versions of the F14 Tomcat’s.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            I’m familiar with the ‘Bombcats’. But the Marines never had any.

          • Secundius

            @ Chesapeakeguy.

            That’s because it NEVER got off the “Paper Planing Stage” and NEVER actually went into production.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            The F-14D was modified to carry air-to-ground weapons. IT was referred to as the Bombcat! It was a quick fix by the Navy to compensate for the loss of the A-6 Intruders that were retired from the fleet. And Marines never had any. Yes, there was a proposal presented by Grumman which was called initially the ASF-14. it never got past the concept stage, as the Navy determined that the new versions of the F-18 coming into the fleet would do the same jobs for much less cost per plane.

          • James B.

            I doubt any Tomcat ever carried the “A-14” designation, though. They were more akin to the F-15E Strike Eagle–a big fighter carrying bombs–than any dedicated attack aircraft.

      • Curtis Thomas

        While the planes never made it thanks to the CMC, everything else was there, including qual’d USMC pilots, RIOs, and support personnel. Apparently they were none too happy when CMC canc’d the program and left them stuck with phantoms and hornets.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      I can only conjecture here, but it might have to do with the size of the amphib ships (specifically the LHA/LHD classes) that will carry them. The new “America” class will be able to carry more of the F-35Bs than the older classes can.

      • Secundius

        @ Chesapeakeguy.

        The reason for that, is they eliminated the “Well Deck”, essentially, turning the America for a Gator-Freighter to a Lizard Freighter.

        • USMC 2881 VET

          I read somewhere that they are only going to get rid of the Well deck on a few of the 9 LHA/LHD’s because they still need a way to support amphibious assaults and or the transport of AAV’s until they retire that platform. The few they convert will have a larger ER/Hospital and a larger or more flight decks for helicopters, Osprey, and F-18’s. The hover crafts simple put can not transport enough vehicles. Granted I read this on the intrawebs so who knows.

          IMHO I would rather 50 AAV’s loaded with marines than 5 hover crafts with maybe 2 M1A’s at max and a HUMVEE or two. Or worse no vehicles just fighters which you can find on full size air craft carriers, which have both Navy and Marine wings on them.Granted floating off the well deck in one of those floating bricks is scary at best they provide decent small arms protection for an infantry squad. (RPG’s/IED’s open them up like a can opener does a can of veggies)

  • Secundius

    Sounds like many of the South American countries, especially BRAZIL. Want them to replace their aging fleet of A-4 Skyhawk’s.

  • Capt Woody Sanford

    The Harriers never had enough range. The British found that out in the Falklands War.

    • rodney scott

      The harriers are not a long range fighter.They,re short range infantry surport for the nuckle draggers on the ground. The f-35 can never replace the harrier. Totally different aircraft. F-35 can,t take a bullet

      • Capt Woody Sanford

        The F-35 and the Harrier are both VTOL, but that’s about the only equivalence. In the Falklands, the attacking Argentine planes were bigger, faster and more powerful. The Harriers were no match. They could not defend the British Fleet. The Brits should have borrowed or bought some American fighters, perhaps used A-10s for close air support. Woody

        • USMC 2881 VET

          sadly another air craft the US is getting rid of . replaced by JSF which is not able to support the same role. Infantry will loose yet another vital support element clearly decided bu those whom have never stepped foot into the danger of combat!

  • rodney scott

    I’m was surprised the marines did not go with the super Hornet which is what they should’ve done.And the grawler.

  • Brian

    The APKWS is on Cobras. They’re not putting it on any fixed-wing platforms. And VMFA-312 has not been on a carrier since April 2014, so that picture is not from October. Always fact check these articles.

  • Brigadier

    This will change as the F-35 is a very overpriced pig. Can’t even dogfight with an F-16D without getting whooped.