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The Marines’ New Harriers and The F-35B

by John Reed on November 14, 2011

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.

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