AV-8B Harrier Finding Success in Iraq
A decade ago, the AV-8 Harrier was the most accident-prone plane in America’s arsenal. After a series of deadly accidents killed 45 of his fellow Marine pilots, engine program manager Lt. Col. Robert Kuckuk of the Marines’ Harrier program office helped redesign both its engine and its maintenance program. That program now takes 25 man-hours per flight hour, but accident rates plunged. At the same time, the AV-8 has found its niche amidst the urban operations that have characterized Operation Iraqi Freedom.
After the Harrier’s most recent engine redesign overhaul, serious accidents dropped from 39 every 100,000 flight hours to 3.17 per 100,000 flight hours in 2001. In Iraq, Harriers have now flown nearly 11,000 hours without a mishap since May 2004.
Maj. Gen. James Amos, commanding general of the U.S. Marine 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, noted that on the way to Baghdad:
“I had my Harriers flying off of highways and bombed-out runways as we advanced on Baghdad for the final showdown… “I simply could not have been more pleased with the reliability of the airplane and its weapons systems…and in the courage and discipline of my AV8 pilots.”
Since Baghdad’s fall, one of the AV-8B Harrier’s most valuable assets is the Rafael LITENING surveillance and targeting pod that was originally designed to guide bombs. Instead, it’s often finding itself in use as a surveillance device. It can spot men and cars in almost any weather, at distances where subjects don’t know they’re being watched. The Harrier’s outstanding slow flight and hovering performance makes it uniquely suited to employ its camera, then accurately deliver ordnance in minutes within 150 meters of friendly troops in cities like Fallujah.
The Marines first bought the British-designed Harriers in 1971, replaced them with a newer model in 1985, upgraded them in 1993 and fixed them in 2000.
Additional Readings & Updates
- Pentagon DVIDS (May 30/12) – Back from Afghanistan, Marines describe success behind close-air support mission
- Chicago Tribune – Trouble-plagued Harrier fighters find redemption in skies over Iraq
- National Defense Magazine (March 2002) – Close Air Support System Helps Reduce Fratricide [PDF format]. The Marines also linked their ACASS (advanced close-air support system into their Harriers, which significantly improves targeting handoff and accuracy.