The 2019 US Marine Corps TACAIR plan is out, and for Harrier fans it makes great reading. The Corps says it now plans to retain its AV-8Bs out to 2028, a two-year extension over previous plans. This is being attributed to slower than predicted F-35 Lightning II introduction. The Marine Corps will maintain five operational squadrons until FY22. West Coast VMAs at Yuma will complete transition to the F-35 in FY23; but the East Coast at Cherry Point will maintain Harrier operations until FY28.
The TACAIR plan says that the current AV-8B active inventory consists of 124 aircraft. There are 16 TAV-8B training aircraft, 34 night-attack aircraft and 74 radar-equipped AV-8B+ aircraft with five front line squadrons, plus a training squadron.
While structural integrity is not of concern, keeping the Harriers relevant and capable will mean an ongoing suite of upgrades.
Over the coming five years this will focus on avionics and software improvements including:
• Link 16 datalink.
• Required Navigation Performance (RNP/RNAV).
• Mode 5/S, ADS-B out (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) transponder performance.
• A helmet mounted cueing system (in 2023).
• Upgraded survivability equipment (in 2023).
Weapons upgrades are:
• AIM-9X Block II.
• AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM.
• APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System).
• AGM-154C JSOW (Joint Stand-Off Weapon).
• Litening IV with ATDL (Advanced Tactical Data Link).
• High-definition video wireless to the cockpit.
• VMF (variable message format) and SATCOMs (in 2023).
The H7.0 Operational Flight Plan is scheduled for release in FY20 and it adds APKWS and AGM-154 JSOW.
H7.1 is scheduled for release in FY21 and brings enhanced avionics and weapons capabilities, including full Link 16 in all AV-8B+ aircraft, this expands on initial Link 16 messages included in H6.2 (FY18) and includes fighter-to-fighter messages. Additionally, AIM-9X Block II be added along with ADS-B out and full Mode5/S plus Litening ATDL.
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