With F-35B production ramping up, the AV8 Harrier is entering into the twilight of its service with the United States Marine Corps. By most accounts, America's Harrier fleet has quite a bit of life left in it, especially considering Pentagon picked up the UK's entire fleet of 74 Harriers, many of which were very young, and all the spare parts that went with them, for cost of roughly 1.35 F-35Bs at today's prices, or a paltry $177M.
As a result, large quantities of surplus Harriers and ample stocks of spare parts are likely to be put up for sale by the DoD in the coming years. Considering the jet's unique short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) abilities and its most recent upgrades—in the AV-8B+'s case this includes the ability to execute beyond-visual range air-to-air combat by employing the AIM-120 AMRAAM with their APG-65 radar sets—they represent an attractive and affordable acquisition opportunity for foreign air arms.
According to Jane's, Turkey is interested in purchasing a number of these soon to be surplus jump-jets to serve as an interim capability before possibly executing an F-35B purchase. This would be in addition to their already sizable F-35A order of 100 airframes. Supposedly Ankara is eyeing somewhere around 20 F-35Bs, so procuring a similar amount of second-hand AV-8Bs makes sense, although we don't know the exact number they are interested in at this time.
Turkey won't likely be the last country interested in America's Harriers. The type could also offer a relatively cheap option for countries wanting to acquire more potent amphibious capabilities, yet alone a proven ground attack platform with rudimentary air-to-air capability as well. Some countries even have amphibious assault ships that may be able to accommodate Harriers. Australia even has their license-built Canberra class, which is based on a Spanish design, that features a ski jump, but they have no fixed-wing STOVL aircraft capable of using it.
Other countries that put a high value on dispersed and austere operations could also be Harrier bargain hunters. Taiwan in particular could benefit from the Harrier's capabilities and some cash-flush Middle Eastern air arms could also become interested in them in an attempt to reduce their reliance of massive airstrips that would become targets for ballistic missiles and other types of attack in the opening stages of any sort of major conflict.
Countries that have island holdings in disputed areas—namely the South China Sea—like say Vietnam—could make good use of the Harrier's unique capabilities as well. Other air arms that just want a super competent close air support and interdiction platform could jump on these jump jets too if the price is right. Even sales opportunities in South America are possible.
We'll keep an eye on where this Turkish initiative goes. If it does come to fruition it could be just the start of the international haggling for the rest of the fleet that will come fully available in the coming decade.
One air force's trash is another air forces treasure as they say!
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com