The AV-8B Harrier II, is a second generation, vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) light-attack jet aircraft utilized by the United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Spanish Armada and Italian navy. The primary mission of the AV-8B is to provide responsive close air support for the ground forces. This single-piloted, advanced V/STOL aircraft can operate from short fields, forward sites, roads and surface ships providing minimum response time to targets.
April 7th 2003: an AV-8B Harrier takes off from on board the assault ship USS Nassau, to engage targets over Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.|
Three AV-8B squadrons stationed approximately 40 miles from the Kuwaiti border, were the most forward deployed tactical strike aircraft during Operation Desert Storm and operated from relatively unprepared sites. One AV-8B squadron and one six-aircraft detachment operated off the landing helicopter ship USS Nassau in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. The average turnaround time during the ground war surge was 23 minutes. In the recent Iraq campaign, the Harrier II saw extensive usage by both the USMC and RAF. USMC Harriers were based on two USMC amphbious assualt ships, USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6). Each carried 24 Harriers, about four times their normal complement of fixed wing aircraft, and tried out the long dormant secondary purpose of the LHD's and LHA's, that of a small aircraft carrier, or sea control ship. RAF Harriers on the other hand were based ashore in Kuwait. Two detatchments from RAF Cottesmore were sent to the region, with one known to have been based at the al Jaber airbase in Kuwait, and the other at a so far undisclosed location. A total of 23 RAF Harriers took part in the campaign at one point or another.
The current AV-8B Remanufacture Program converts older AV-8B day attack aircraft to the most recent production radar/night attack configuration. This radar-equipped version of the AV-8B, called the AV-8B+, became operational in the summer of 1994.