The Marines’ New Harriers and The F-35B

We’ve all seen the news that emerged on Sunday saying that the Marines are close to buying 70 of Britain’s freshly retired Gr7/9 Harrier jump jets to keep the USMC Harrier fleet flying into the 2020s. This comes a few months after it was revealed that the Corps is slated to purchase about 80 F-35C carrier variant Joint Strike Fighters. This is clearly a hedge against delays with the F-35 program. The Marines have been all in on the JSF for years, saying that it was the future of Marine Corps tacair and that there is no plan B.

Well, just like the Navy has purchased additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to offset against delays in the F-35 program, the Marines are buying the Brits’ newly refurbished Harriers –which are a few years newer than the Corps’ AV-8Bs — to provide parts for their oldest Harriers  and replace F/A-18D Hornet strike jets that are quickly approaching the end of their service lives.

You’ve got to be asking what will this mean for the F-35B. While the Bravo has been having a fairly good year of flight testing, it’s still experienced considerable delays and cost overruns (as has the entire program). As the Defense Department prepares for hefty budget cuts, top DoD officials are saying that the Pentagon may not need to buy all three F-35 variants.

As Phil points out  at DoDBuzz, this could well be a sign that the Corps is hedging against cuts to the F-35B buy.  With the overall program delayed by at least another two years and the amphibious service’s fighters — that were supposed to be replaced by the F-35B starting in 2012 — closing in on retirement, this move replaces the oldest STOVL jets and Hornets with planes that will keep flying into the 2020s. Meanwhile, the Corps will likely be able to take delivery F-35Cs at the end of this decade to replace the Hornets that are still flying. By that time, the B will either be set to enter service or a memory.

  • tiger

    Well Somebody in the Corps is thinking out the box. Learning to adapt & overcome obstacles is The USMC way. The UK gets some cash for used birds. A win-win. However other Harrier users like Spain or Thailand now get shut out of the RAF surplus source.

  • WJS

    Perhaps more than that. How many Harriers does the UK HAVE?

    • darren moran

      70ish I’d think

  • chaos0xomega

    Good one, now if only the AF would buy more legacy fighters, we could all finally acknowledge that the F-35 is an unaffordable (and I would say unnecessarily premature) expenditure given the current fiscal straights.

    • Aygar

      All this really does is buy time F-35B teething problems. Unlike the F/A-18, the F-16, and the the production lines of the Harrier II are gone. There are no new planes to be had, and it’s unclear whether Harrier II lines could be recreated without really significant investment of capital.

      Interestingly the F-35B is the only one of the F-35 variants who’s capabilities are not duplicated in a fighter currently in production.

    • Guest

      If the Air Force decides to rely on our 30 year old legacy fighters for another 20+ years, we can forget about having the uncontested air superiority we’ve enjoyed since the end of the Cold War.

      Russia and China have already started down the path to inducting stealth fighters. India, Korea, and Japan all have plans to develop stealth fighters. Basically, the world’s major air forces are advancing forward, and we’re supposed to go backwards?

      • tiger

        They don’t grow on trees. They cost money. Money we lack right now, tech issues aside.

        • chockblock

          Dead pilots and strafed ground troops cost a lot more than any budget overruns. Something our COngress critters need to remember.

  • Morty

    The F-35’s better not get canceled because we cannot relay on F-22’s

  • Black Owl

    There’s a simple solution to this: Cancel the F-35B and by Super Hornets with upgraded Stealth characteristics.

  • elizzar

    sigh … i wish we’d kept them and at least one of the invincibles, especially as it now means we are pretty much screwed if the f35 falls through … can’t believe the shit our government is pulling at the moment military-wise, whilst increasing (amongst others) our overseas aid budget (including charity payments to india, china and pakistan this fiscal year).
    can i come live over with you guys? :-)

  • Mike

    I thought of the F-35B as an extravagance until I realized it turned all the helicopter carriers into mini aircraft carriers. That makes them huge force multipliers.

  • BILL

    The bad part is the Air Force announced last week that they have to spend @1.2 billion to extend the life of F15s and F16s and now the Marines have to buy used Harriers from England because of the delays on the F35,where does it end because of the delays on the JSF?

    • tiger

      No, the bad part is that back in DC there is no Budget deal. They will not get one by X Mas and real cuts come to the DOD budgets.

      • blight

        The big spenders in government are SS, Medicare and DoD in that order. Though I’ve heard the spin about how SS money is defined, but I’ll leave it in there anyways.

        You can’t touch the first two because guess who votes? As for the third…

        • Guest

          Honestly, I think the supermegaultracommittee will follow the pattern pretty much all political deals in recent years have set: Everyone will panic as the deadline closes in with no agreement in sight, but at the last possible minute they will hash out a (usually half hearted) deal that likely puts off a major decision yet again.

  • Max

    How can the F-18 be coming to the end of its service life? It’s only about 20-odd years old. Can’t they refurbish them with new avionics, radar and such, and give them another 20 years? What war are we fighting that we always need the latest and greatest gold-plated weapon system that costs ever more and more billions? I like the latest and greatest, but give me a break; we need to live within our means. After all, we’ve got a huge defense budget cut (probably) coming in a matter of months from the budget deal.

  • Lance

    Like I said at DOD Buzz I think the Harriers will fly for a long time even past the 2025 date. Same for the F-15 I think with economic and political problems older jets will fly for a few more decades to come. Upgraded they will preform just as good as any Chinese or Russian plane around.

  • Guest

    BTW, most of the other places reporting the recent Harrier purchase don’t seem to be portraying it as a huge threat to the F-35 in any way. I think this is all being overblown, as JSF stories always are.

  • Roland

    I still prefer F-35 and F-22 for defense . Just ask the manufacturer to check their delivery schedules.

  • Tee

    And the Death Spiral begins for the F-35. Air Force Upgrading F-15’s & F-16’s, the Marines purchasing British Harriers. The Pentagon can read the writing on the wall.
    No Deal by the Super Committee, equals No Money, equals NO JSF.

  • Kski

    Well the corps on the right track. Buy or fund a program for (in this case old British Harriers) or a Super Harrier. An buy F, E/A-18E,F,Gs to replace the older Cs an Ds.

    • blight

      If the Harrier line is dead, then we’re spending money to reopen an old line that may no longer be in line with what we need tomorrow.

      Flushing out older Hornets for newer ones might be a short term choice, but it cannibalizes the JSF buy. R&D cost will spiral upward. We may not have an option though if the cost becomes ridiculously unsustainable.

      Why is it that the DoD is so hit-and-miss when it comes to some programs coming in on time and on budget (or slightly above budget, or under budget) versus others? Like the Virginia SSN build, for instance?

      • Aygar

        A-10 was also delivered under budget and on time.

        • MIke

          yea how many years ago? haha. great aircraft btw.

      • Chaostician

        “Why is it that the DoD is so hit-and-miss when it comes to some programs coming in on time and on budget (or slightly above budget, or under budget) versus others?”. ANSWER: Too many unrealistic, unachievable concepts to begin with, coupled with worse execution. Committing to immature technology resulting in immeasurable risk. Inability to specify & maintain requirements discipline. Inability to lead & manage contractors and satisfy stakeholders that they “have their act together”, resulting in punishing actions from OSD, GAO, and Congress, creating further havoc and death spiral programs.

  • Sanem

    the USAF and Marines have been screaming that there’s no alternative to the F-35 for years (while the Navy just bought more F-18’s and is spending a lot of money on the X-47B). using older aircraft instead proves that there is

    as for future Russian and Chinese stealth fighters, modern radars and sensors are always getting better at detecting enemies. the F-35 can detect the F-22, the USAF says F-15’s with AESA can detect the J-20, and the T-50 has L-band radars, making the F-35 stealth pretty much useless

  • Morty

    If They do Fall through It will be at least five years until another aircraft can be crated possibly more. then how can we keep up with china.

  • Elijah

    The Marines and the Navy have two diffrent functions. What is good for one may be useless to the other. We should leave it up to the best minds for the final decisions.

  • Mike

    Just another example of legacy aircraft doing what the F-35 should be doing. Seriously if the aircraft comes operational a decade late, how can one defend that? That mean’s it’s already old technology coming into service.. by the time we get enough in numbers a sixth generation fighter will already be in development. Hopefully not by Lockheed.

    The F-35 is loosing it’s purpose.. there’s no point to continue on with unproven and soon to be obsolete technology.

  • RCDC

    If were going to do this we shouldn’t have retired those jets we already retired in the past. Just imagine how mush we could have saved.

  • Mike

    In order to bolster our asian allies military capabilities to off set a rising Chinese navy capability. The US should provide eight Harrier Jump Jets to Thailand to bring their Aircraft Carrier up to full capability.

  • Jetstream

    There is no cold war anymore, no real major threat, we have enough Toys (Fighter Jets) to keep most pilots happy. It’s just them Generals wanting new toys to play with, but when the money is almost gone, you be happy with what toys you have. Besides I can remember how long we got along with the old and dependable F4 Phantom during the cold war when I was in the Corps in the 80’s. We done so much, for so long for so little, that we were qailified to do the impossible with nothing…Semper FI

  • johnvarry

    The problem is not so much the need to buy new useless toys as the need to replace ones close to wearing out and being grounded.

    If the USMC had access to new build AV-8B’s that were cost effective Im sure they would buy them. F-35B haters aside the F-35B offers a significant upgrade over the AV-8B Harrier II. The F-35 may not offer significant advances over a F-16 or a F/A-18 but next to a Harrier you are talking a major capability advance.