US Marine Corps studying Harrier enhancements

Washington DC
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The US Marine Corps is studying potential enhancements for the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II jump-jet to keep the aircraft relevant to its planned 2030 retirement date.

Julie Praiss, Boeing's Aircraft and Weapons Support vice-president, says the USMC and the company are contemplating adding upgrades such as a Link 16 enhancement and variable message format datalinks to the aircraft.

Later additions might include expanded weapons capability, such as adding the Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile to the jet's arsenal and a helmet-mounted cueing system. Other possible upgrades include updated sensors, with particular emphasis on the aircraft's Raytheon APG-65 radar, Praiss says.

The USMC originally planned to keep the Harrier in service only until 2015, but in the past few years decided to keep the aircraft in use for far longer. The majority of the Harrier fleet will now remain in operation until 2027.

The decision was partly driven by delays in the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter programme, but also the realisation that the venerable aircraft has far more life left on the 134-airframe fleet than the service's increasingly fatigued legacy Boeing F/A-18A/B/C/D inventory.