Today it was announced that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to sell its entire Harrier fleet to the US Marine Corps. Rumours had been around for months that a deal was in the making and Peter Luff the Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology confirmed the sale to the House of Commons.
The 72 Harriers currently stored in flyable condition at RAF Cottesmore will be used by the USMC as a source of spares for their similar Harrier AV-8B fleet. To be clear the Marines have no plans to operate these aircraft. They will be stripped down and the common parts between the two types will be used to keep the AV-8B flying until 2025.
This is a sad end for a much loved aircraft that had served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan (in Harrier GR7 / GR9 guise) but the decision to withdraw the aircraft as part of the SDSR was very unlikely to be reversed and as time passed it became impossible to do so.
Hopes that the aircraft (possibly with HMS Ark Royal) would be sold to the Indian Navy as a replacement for their aging Sea Harriers was dashed when the Indian’s decided the Harrier didn’t fit their needs. The Indian Navy was the only likely air arm that would have operated the Harriers leaving the only other option to other the Harriers to other nations who operated variants as the Harrier as a source of spares.
The USMC will get the spare parts inventory for $50 million and the 72 Harriers for an additional $130 million. A great deal for the Americans and whilst it looks a bad deal for the UK if you view these as aircraft (especially when you factor in the amount spent to upgrade them to GR9 standard) rather than spares, it was about as good as it could have been.
I’ve long expected this would happen and it my blog in June I had said I thought BAE would be involved in spares recovery in a similar way they have been for the Tornado F3. Details of if the USMC will contract with BAE or if they will transport the aircraft whole to the US and recover the spares themselves isn’t clear. I wouldn’t think it would be cost effective to transport these aircraft whole to the US to recover the spares. Time will tell.