Tag Archives: AV-8

It Only Took the Royal Navy 37 Years to Come Full Circle

Once upon a time: HMS Ark Royal (R09) loaded with F-4 Phantoms and Buccaneers. 

The country that in 1918 designed the first ocean-going aircraft carrier retired their last “big deck” flattop, the 53,000-ton HMS Ark Royal (R09) in 1979, taking the ability to support (F-4) Phantom FG.1s and Buccaneer S.2 bombers with her.

27 November 1978: 892 NAS Phantom XT870/012- last fixed-wing catapult launch from HMS Ark Royal took place at 15.11 that day, flown by an RAF crew of Flt Lt Murdo MacLeod and Deputy Air Engineer (RIO) Lt D McCallum in the back seat (pictured).

The replacement for Ark Royal was to be the 22,000-ton “through deck destroyer” HMS Invincible, capable of fielding a small force of about a dozen helicopters or so and V/STOL Sea Harriers. A mid-sized (28,000-ton) 1950s-era Centaur-class carrier, HMS Hermes (R12), was to be kept around for a minute for use as a “commando carrier,” akin to an LPH in the U.S. Navy.

Then came the Falklands War, and with Ark Royal long gone and Invincible only able to carry a handful of aircraft, the aging Hermes was stacked with an impressive 26 Harriers (to include 10 RAF GR.3 ground-based variants) and 10 Sea Kings. Retired in 1983, she was sold to India two years later– a country that loved Hermes intently as INS Viraat until she was sent to the breakers this very month.

Since 1984, the UK had to make do with the postage-stamp-sized “Harrier Carriers” of the expanded Invincible-class, which were maxed out at 8 Sea Harriers and 12 helicopters although they typically carried far less. By 2014, even those vessels were gone.

However, last week the new supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth put to sea with the largest single air wing any British ship has carried since Hermes was put to pasture in 1983: 14 F-35B Lightning (reportedly “the largest air group of fifth-generation fighters at sea anywhere in the world”) and eight Merlin HM2 (“Grey Merlin”) ASW helicopters– two of which are “baggers” carrying experimental Crowsnest AEW radar sets.

The F-35s come from the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and the US Marines Corps VMFA-211 (The Wake Island Avengers), while the Merlins come from 824 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm– truly a joint wing with Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and USMC elements.

Of note, a QE-class carrier has deck and hangar space for as many as 45 F-35s. So one day they may reach 1979 levels of seapower again…

The Harrier Carrier. It’s still a thing

harrier 68mm sneb rocket volley

When the Harrier jump jet became a real thing in the late 1960s, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1/GR.3 and the AV-8A were seen as being able to fight from primitive forward operating bases on the battlefield and help blunt the Soviet tank force should they come across the Fulda Gap or over the top into Norway (or for the Brits, against the Guatemalans in Belize or Argies in the Falklands).

harrierhide3

However, the benefit of using these V/STOL strike craft on abbreviated aircraft carriers without the need for catapults or arresting gear was soon evident.

In fact, it was tested out before the aircraft was even put into production.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

The Hawker P-1127 (Harrier prototype) after landing successfully on HMS Ark Royal, 3 February 1962.

In 1974, the Marines began the first shipboard trials on the helicopter assault ship USS Guam and two years later 14 AV-8A Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231) “Ace of Spades” embarked aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) from 1976 to 1977 to prove the concept of integrating the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) Harrier into catapult and barrier configured carrier’s normal Air Wing operations.

harriers uss fdr franklin

Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt backed the concept of a cheaply built 13,000-ton Sea Control Ship that could be filled with a couple dozen Harriers and Sea King ASW helicopters at about the same time. Basically a 1970s update to the Jeep Carriers of WWII.

sea-control-ship

Heck, Zumwalt even wanted Harrier optimized Spruance-class destroyers in several different flavors, none of which ever got past the drawing board.

5847322839_80b4a4a790_z

through deck spruance vtol harrier destroyer aviationAs well as a modern battlecruiser based on a nuclear powered Virginia-class hull stretched to form an aviation capable “Strike Cruiser” that could accommodate 6 Harriers and 4 Sea Sprites/Hawks along with a full weapons suite.

strike cruiser harrier

Harriers on everything!

Even though Zum was replaced and a lot of his ideas (including building 100+ Pegasus-class hydrofoil missile boats!) went with him, the Harrier Carrier concept was growing.

In 1977, the Spanish Armada placed an order for a 15,000-ton ship based on Zumwalt’s concept which was commissioned in 1982 as Príncipe de Asturias capable of carrying 29 fixed-wing Harriers (“Matadors” in Spanish service) and rotary-wing aircraft. A larger 26,000-ton ship optimized for amphibious warfare, Juan Carlos I, was ordered in 2003.

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

Spanish Matadors on carrier Princip de Australias

The Royal Navy converted their last legacy carrier, HMS Hermes, with a 12-degree ski jump to help with rolling take-offs of the new Sea Harrier FRS.1 in 1980 while they ordered three specifically designed “carrier cruisers” as they were described at the time, the first of which, HMS Invincible, was commissioned 11 July 1980.

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class Britsh Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

HMS Illustrious, an Invincible-class British Harrier Carrier with a Sea Harrier lifting off her ski jump

The British Harrier carriers proved able to do the job in a pinch (see= Falkand Islands).

For further example, in September 1995, just eight FA.2 Sea Harriers from 800 NAS aboard HMS Invincible commenced operations over Serb-held positions in Sarajevo. Over the next ten days, they flew 24 bombing sorties, 42 combat air patrols, and 28 reconnaissance missions, for a sortie rate of 11.75 flights per day, every day for a week and a half, with just eight airframes.

Then came others

India began operating its INS Vikrant with Sea Harriers in 1983 later joined by the retired Hermes (as INS Viraat).

The 13,000-ton Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (551) came off the ways in 1985, picked up her first Harriers in 1991, and was joined by the nearly twice as large Cavour in 2009.

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Cavour (550) aircraft carrier (CVH) is the flagship of the Italian Navy (Marina Militare) with Italian AV-8Bs

Harrier carriers ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi, left, and ESPS Príncipe Asturias, right, flanking the conventional CATOBAR French carrier Foch, center. 

Thailand’s 11,000-ton HTMS Chakri Naruebet, based on the final U.S. Navy blueprints for a dedicated sea control ship but with the addition of a ski-jump ramp, was commissioned in 1997– flying a handful of Spanish surplus AV-8S Matadors.

Plus of course, all five Tarawa-class and eight Wasp-class LHA/LHDs of the U.S. Navy were designed so they could operate as dedicated Sea Control Ships when needed. This was validated when some 20 AV-8Bs of VMA-331 operated from USS Nassau (LHA-4) in support of Operation Desert Storm, flying 240 combat sorties and dropping 900 bombs.

In all, between May 1976 when USS Tarawa (LHA-1) was commissioned and 2005 when Invincible was taken out of service, no less than 22 Harrier Carriers or their equivalents were built, converted, or building for six navies around the world.

That was the peak.

Since then those numbers have trimmed as all of the Invincibles and Tarawas, Vikrant and Hermes/Viraat, as well as Príncipe de Asturias, have been decommissioned. Currently, there are but 13 hulls afloat designed to operate these aircraft, which themselves are dwindling and are getting smaller in number every week.

The Harrier was withdrawn from both RN and Thai service in 2006.

The Indians hung up their last jump jet this May.

The Italians still have 16 operational AV-8B/TAV-8Bs they operate from their two carriers and they are very active. For instance, 8 Italian Harriers flying from Garibaldi dropped 160 guided bombs during 1221 flight hours over Libya in 2011.

The Spanish have 13 EAV-8B+/TAV-8Bs capable of operations from Juan Carlos I, though maintenance on these older aircraft is reportedly a problem.

The 2016 Marine Aviation Plan carries 84 AV-8Bs airframes to produce 66 RBA Harriers in 6 operational and one replacement squadron. This is to reduce to 80 aircraft/5 operational squadrons in FY17, 64/4 by FY21, 48/3 in FY22,  32/2 in FY23, 16/1 in FY24 and drop altogether by FY27.

USMC Harriers will be replaced by the F-35C, in theory, by then for which the new LHA-6 class ships will be optimized for.

But speaking of Marine AV-8Bs from their dedicated sea control/amphib ships, they are still getting the job done.

Withness this video last week from USS Boxer (LHD-4) with Harriers of VMA-214 (Blacksheep) assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), launching missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, joining strike aircraft operating from USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in the Mediterranean Sea.

“These missions from the flight decks of USS Boxer, like those from the USS Harry S. Truman, demonstrate the inherent flexibility of naval forces,” said Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“Today, U.S. naval forces are striking ISIL simultaneously from both the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. Of course, the engine of this effort is our nation’s Sailors and Marines serving with the USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit; they, together with our joint and coalition partners, are dismantling and rolling back terrorist networks in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere,” said Donegan.

Here are some beautiful shots of AV-8Bs aboard Boxer.

Just keeping it real.

VMA-214 Blacksheep AV-8B Harrier on USS Boxer, photo by Staff Sgt. Naquan Peterson

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 166 sits on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the Arabian Sea Oct. 20, 2013. The Boxer was underway in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Michael Schwartz, U.S. Navy/Released)

US to buy British Harriers, good for the USMC, sucker deal for UK

The Brits, anxious to get out of the military business as fast as possible, have decommissioned all three of their aircraft carriers….and retired all 74 of their ‘junk’ Harrier and Sea Harrier Jump Jets.

Harriers, the craft that won the Falklands War in 1982, kept Belize speaking English, and provided enough of a threat to Soviet Air units tasked with airfield destruction in Western Europe that Soviet air and tank crews slept uneasy…..

Surprise surprise, in a reverse of Lend-Lease, the US is buying Britain’s gently used Harriers for $675,000 a pop.

DEAL

Wait, does this mean that the vaunted F-35 isn’t quite ready to hit the fleet?….hope no one tells the British…they were hoping to use it to replace…….their Harriers..

From Defense times http://defensenews.com/story.php?i=8225756&c=EUR&s=AIR

Britain has agreed to sell all of its 74 decommissioned Harrier jump jets, along with engines and spare parts, to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – a move expected to help the Marines operate Harriers into the mid-2020s and provide extra planes to replace aging two-seat F-18D Hornet strike fighters.

A Harrier GR9 takes off for the last time in November 2010 from the now-decommissioned aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are buying 74 decommissioned British Harrier jump jets. (U.K. Ministry of Defence)

Rear Adm. Mark Heinrich, chief of the U.S. Navy’s Supply Corps, confirmed the two-part deal Nov. 10 during a conference in New York sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch in association with Defense News.

Related Topics

Heinrich negotiated the $50 million purchase of all Harrier spare parts, while Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, the U.S. Navy’s program executive officer for tactical aircraft, is overseeing discussions to buy the Harrier aircraft and their Rolls-Royce engines, Heinrich said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in London confirmed the Disposal Services Agency was in talks with the U.S. Navy for the sale of the Harriers. The deal had yet to be concluded, he said Nov. 11.

Britain retired its joint force of Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier aircraft late last year in one of the most controversial moves of the defense reductions, which also cut the aircraft carriers that operated the jets, other warships, maritime patrol planes and personnel.

Most of the retired Harriers are stored at the Royal Air Force base at Cottesmore, England.

They have been undergoing minimum fleet maintenance, including anti-deterioration measures, in order to keep them airworthy, Heinrich said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command declined Nov. 11 to comment on the deal, deferring to the British military.

An MoD source said Nov. 11 that he thought both deals could be signed in the next week or two. The MoD source confirmed that the entire fleet of 74 Harrier aircraft was involved in the sale.

Heinrich noted that payment details were the only outstanding issue on the parts deal discussions, and he said the purchase will give the U.S. Marines a relatively economical way to get their hands on key components to keep the Harrier fleet running.

Similar Aircraft

While it is unusual for the U.S. to buy used foreign military aircraft for operation, integration of the British planes into Marine Corps squadrons shouldn’t be a major problem, one expert said.

“I don’t think it will be costly to rip out the Brit systems” and replace them with Marine gear, said Lon Nordeen, author of several books on the Harrier.

Nordeen noted that the British GR 9 and 9As are similar in configuration to the Marines’ AV-8B night attack version, which make up about a third of U.S. Harriers. The British planes also are night planes dedicated to air-ground attack, he said, and while both types carry Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sensors, neither is fitted with a multimode radar such as the APG-65 carried by U.S. AV-8B+ models.

The absence of the big radar, Nordeen said, makes the GR 9A and AV-8Bs “a better-performing plane. Weighing less, it’s more of a hot rod.”

British GR 9s, although upgraded with improved avionics and weapons, are powered by the Rolls-Royce Mark 105 Pegasus engine. GR 9As have the more powerful Mark 107, similar to the Rolls-Royce F402-RR-408s that power Marine AV-8Bs.

British and U.S. Harrier II aircraft had a high degree of commonality from their origin. The planes were developed and built in a joint arrangement between British Aerospace – now BAE Systems – and McDonnell Douglas, now a division of Boeing. While each company built its own wings, all forward sections of the British and American Harrier IIs were built by McDonnell in St. Louis, Mo., while British Aerospace built the fuselage sections aft of the cockpit.

“All the planes have to fit together,” Nordeen said.

The Harrier IIs, built between 1980 and 1995, “are still quite serviceable,” he said. “The aircraft are not that far apart. We’re taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them. It’s like we’re buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it.”

Operationally, Nordeen said, “these are very good platforms. They need upgrades, but on bombing missions they have the ability to incorporate the Litening II targeting pod [used by U.S. aircraft]. They’re good platforms. And we’ve already got trained pilots.”

Marine Corps Harriers are to be phased out by 2025, when replacement by new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters should be complete.