Currently, the Marine Corps flies ‘Night Attack’ and ‘Plus’ Harriers in five active-duty squadrons plus one training squadron. They are divided among two home bases; Marine Corps Air Stations Yuma, Arizona, and Cherry Point, North Carolina. The Harrier II is in the process of being replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Though mired in “development hell,” the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), as the F-35 was conceptually called, promises to be a monumental leap in sophistication, to say nothing of its stealth capability. With V/STOL having proved its worth, the Marines pushed for the development of the B-variant possessing this capability, while also planning to purchase a number of the carrier-capable C-variant as well. Superior in armament, speed, combat radius, and avionics, the Lightning is undoubtedly a far more capable platform. But given difficulties in fielding the F-35, the AV-8B is slated to serve at least several more years—a decade longer than intended.
When the final chapter in the Harrier story is written, the Marines will bid farewell to an underappreciated aircraft that became much better over time and came through when it mattered most.
Edward Chang is a freelance defense, military, and foreign policy writer. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and War Is Boring.
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