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Harriers Now Armed With AMRAAMs

by John Reed on December 8, 2011

Here’s an interesting photo of Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers aboard the USS Makin Island in the Pacific Ocean about to be armed with AIM-120 AMRAAMs. Yup, Harriers armed with the U.S.’ premiere air-to-air weapon. This marks the first time that USMC Harriers have carried AMRAAMs on an operational deployment. Pretty interesting considering that one typically thinks of the Harrier as a close air support jet — although, the British Sea Harrier has air-to-air kills under its belt.

I’ve got to wonder if the Harriers are being armed with the AMRAAMs to hedge against a potential shortage of USMC air-to-air fighters that could happen as the Corps’ oldest F/A-18 Hornets reach the end of their service lives before the Marines’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter becomes available. Heck, we already know that the Corps is buying Britain’s entire GR7/9 Harrier fleet to hedge against the looming fighter gap.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Solomon December 8, 2011 at 10:46 am

are you sure about this? i thought the unit that participated in the Libyan conflict carried AIM-120's.


PolicyWonk December 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

It makes sense to supply the Harriers with the ability to fight their way out of a jam with the most advanced weapons. After all – the airspace they venture into just might be contested by a sophisticated adversary (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan – poor measures in that respect).


Marcase December 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

Amraams have been carried before on Harriers, especially former RN Seaharriers.
But they’re heavy (fuel consuming) and usually ‘overkill’ since Harrier dets fly mostly ground support.
But “Harrier carriers” do stock Amraams aboard, just in case.

Seaharrier AIM120 – http://imagery.vnfawing.com/archive/Weapons/AIM-120/p0960.jpg
AV-8B AIM120 – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/AIM-120_AMRAAM_B.jpg


joe December 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

The Harrier did fairly well in air to air – admittedly against less that top-flight opposition, but there were several recorded statements that using and abusing the STOVL capability in a dogfight made for a *very* unconventional opponent.


Jumpy December 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

The Marine Corps has stated that there is no “Plan B” alternative to the F-35B. The recent purchase of British Harriers and the arming of AV-8Bs with AMRAAMs suggests to me they might just be fibbing about the lack of a fallback position.


Jeff December 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm

They bought time, not a replacement. It speaks to the quality of these venerable planes, but that doesn't mean they're equatable to F35s.


Jumpy December 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I agree that used Harriers are not equivalent to new F-35Bs and I never suggested otherwise. My point is that the Marine Corps knows that the combination of looming budget cuts and development problems with the F-35B put the program in very deep jeopardy. The Marines are quietly taking steps to be ready for the cancellation of the F-35B, should that occur.


Fluoro Ninja December 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Quite right. As things stand now the Harriers are head and shoulders above the JSF. Afterall, the Harriers are fully mission capable. Could be 10 years before that can be said of the F-35. Bring on more Harriers!


Black Owl December 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

Jumpy, I think the Marines weren't telling the truth when they said that. The F/A-18E/F is the plan B, but they just really don't want it. They are dead set on the F-35B, which makes no sense.


@phobos512 December 8, 2011 at 11:54 am

The E/F has never been considered a hedge against the absence of the F-35 – the F-35 is being brought online as a replacement for the F/A-18 A/C (and with some exceptions the B/D models as well)…It is a complement to the E/F – they are not capable of performing the same missions.


TMB December 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm

An F-18 can't fly off an Amphib.


Black Owl December 9, 2011 at 2:08 am

I was referring to their older Hornets, guys.


Riceball December 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Those can't fly off of an amphib either.


Dan Gao December 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

Adding an AMRAAM to a Harrier doesn't change the fact that they are still old, extremely vulnerable to MANPADs and SAMs, and badly outclassed by any modern fighter.

It sounds more like the Marines are prepping the Harriers to take on the roles of the legacy Hornets, which apparently are very worn out.


Benjamin December 8, 2011 at 11:43 am

The F/A-18E/F is definitely not the plan B if there is one. They cannot operate from amphibious ships. The amphibious ships would need a platform capable if necessary of air to air because they do not always operate within range of a carrier.


Dave Jackson December 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm

AMRAAM and lightning pod….where do the bombs go?


Morty December 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm



rob December 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

a sea harrier det. wiped the floor with the us air force aggressor squadron in the 80's. the man in charge was a guy called sharky ward who went on to score 4 kills in the falklands.this is not intended to start an argument its just to point out that the harrier equipped with an air to air radar and designed from the out set to be an interceptor was and is a capable aircraft.however the marines harrier is designed for ground attack and would fail as a dogfighter


Foreign.Guy December 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm

The number of Air-to-air weapon platforms (I mean planes apologies if I use the wrong term) has been reduced significantly since the retirement of the F14. The new Jets didn't meet their original deadline. In the short term… ya harriers and Air-to-Air missiles.

I just hope everyone remembers how to use a air to air gun. Everytime someone says 'dog fighting is dead' they are proven wrong.


Tom December 8, 2011 at 11:02 pm

And if you go further back, the number of capable air-to-air planes in the carriers airwing has increased since the A-7's were replaced with F-18's, and it is my understanding that the F-18 is a superior dog-fighter to the F-14, and the F-18E/F AESA radar is more capable, and with recent developments of the AMRAAM, the loss of the Phoenix is not much of an issue either.


Lance December 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Ive seen Harrier as far as 15 years ago carry AMRAAMs before this is no new news.


Joe Boyum December 9, 2011 at 1:03 am

I remember when with Harpoon Classic you could arm USMC harriers with amraam. Made the things actually useful in the game.

Unless you were downing bears or last ditch against backfires…ahh harpoon happy happy times.


jamFRIDGE December 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Reading a recently passed bill, the Senate said they were going to “slow the F-35 project” and operate on a “fixed budget” with “certain deadine requirements.”


Joe Boyum December 9, 2011 at 1:09 am

Lots of cash being spent for marginally useful capabilities. Especially since the next war we fight will be in mexico.

You heard it here first. MC-12W's to be hauled out of retirement in 2020 to be employed against drug cartels and rogue mexican army units.


david nichols December 10, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Even if you are correct about the targets, we have A10's stationed in Tucson which are a ground attack force for which neither the Mexican army nor the cartels have any effective answer…and they are operational today!


William C. December 9, 2011 at 2:05 am

Wait a minute. The ability to use AIM-120s was one of the big selling points of the AV-8B+ years ago. They jammed an AN/APG-65 into the thing (same radar used by early F/A-18s) just for that purpose.


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