MCDONNELL DOUGLAS ANNOUNCED on May 16 that it had received a $102 million contract award for remanufacture of four existing AV-8B airframes to Harrier II Plus standard. The contract forms the first phase of the upgrade of 73 USMC AV-8Bs to the new radar-equipped, night-attack configuration in a $1.7 billion deal which will be completed in 2002. It had previously been planned that all 114 of the USMC’s earlier AV-8Bs would be upgraded but funding cutbacks have reduced this figure.
Upgrading takes around 12 months per airframe and includes fitting a new fuselage, which is considered a cheaper alternative to the remodelling and stretching of the old fuselage to accommodate the new Hughes APG-65 multi-mode radar. Other additions include FUR and a night attack avionics system, an upgraded cockpit and higher thrust Rolls-Royce F402-RR-408 (Pegasus II- 61) turbofan engines. The first of the remanufactured aircraft is scheduled for redelivery in 1996 and they are expected to reach initial operational capability in 1997.
The USMC is already in the process of taking delivery of 27 new production Harrier II Plus aircraft, the first of which was handed over on April 18, 1993 with the last expected in November. Seven examples are now in service with VMA-542 at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, while VMA-223 and VMA-231, also at Cherry Point, will be the second and third squadrons to receive the new aircraft.