Weapon Systems

Versatile AV-8B Harrier provides close air support to 26th MEU


The multi-mission capable aircraft can take off from smaller carriers and amphibious ships and can rapidly attack targets on land, air and sea.

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A US Marine AV-8B Harrier in California taxis to be refueled during a training exercise on February 12, 2020. [US Marine Corps]
A US Marine AV-8B Harrier in California taxis to be refueled during a training exercise on February 12, 2020. [US Marine Corps]

As the US military's only short takeoff, vertical landing jet aircraft, the AV-8B Harrier II is a critical component of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). which depends on it for a variety of missions.

The 26th MEU, a Marine air-ground task force, includes ground, aviation and logistics combat elements under a common command element.

As a self-contained and self-sustained air, land and sea strike force, it can be tailored to meet any contingency, including response to regional aggression.

This capability, in addition to the many other land, sea and air assets of the US military, enables the United States to help its allies in times of need against common adversaries.

Vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) aircraft are well suited to the combat and expeditionary requirements of the US Marine Corps because of their tactical mobility, versatility and flexibility.

A multi-mission capable aircraft, the AV-8B Harrier II is able to take off from smaller carriers and amphibious ships and can rapidly attack enemy targets on land, air and sea.

More than 22,000 pounds (9,979kg) of thrust gives the aircraft the ability to hover like a helicopter and rapidly accelerate forward, reaching speeds of 630 mph (1,013km/hour).

The aircraft can attack and destroy air and ground targets, provide offensive and defensive close air support for ground troops, conduct reconnaissance and escort helicopters.

Well regarded for its versatility and short takeoff capabilities, the AV-8B Harrier II first entered service with the US Marine Corps in January 1985, and is used by the Italian and Spanish navies.

The United Kingdom's Royal Air Force previously used the GR7 and GR9, variants derived from the AV-8B Harrier II.

Aircraft's armaments

The AV-8B is equipped with one centerline fuselage and six wing hardpoints that can carry up to 9,200 pounds (4,170kg) of ordnance, including the lethal five-barreled 25mm GAU-12/U cannon.

The GAU-12/U is a Gatling gun adaptable for air, land and sea platforms. With a firing rate of up to 4,200 shots per minute, it can be loaded with high explosive incendiary ammunition or penetrating depleted uranium rounds.

The aircraft's armaments also include the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile, which has an operational range of up to 18 miles (30km).

The Sidewinder is capable of reaching supersonic speeds of Mach 2.5, which is faster than most fighter aircraft.

The Harrier II can carry up to six Mk-82 500-pound (226kg) low-drag, free fall, general purpose bombs that contain about 196 pounds (89kg) of explosives.

The aircraft also can be equipped with the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) AGM-154, a 1,000-pound (450kg) air-to-surface glide bomb that can be launched day or night and in adverse weather conditions.

The JSOW's 63 nautical mile (116km) standoff range enables aircraft to stay far outside the reach of enemy defenses while still destroying targets.

When launched from an altitude of 40,000 feet (12,200 meters), the JSOW can reach a range of 80.7 miles (130km).

Its variants can attack soft and armored targets such as parked aircraft, trucks, armored personnel carriers and surface-to-air missile sites. The weapon can also engage fixed-point targets such as industrial facilities.

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