The AV-8B Plus Harrier, is a modernized version of the venerable AV-8 Harrier, bringing it up to 4th generation fighter standards.

As early as the late 1960s, Italy had been interested in the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, but was hindered by a 1937 Italian law that prohibited the navy from operating fixed-wing aircraft. In 1989, shortly after the ban was lifted, Italy signed a contract to purchase 14 AV-8B+ VTOL fighters and two TAV-8B trainers for use on its Giuseppe Garibaldi-class aircraft carrier. Harrier IIs remain to this day the backbone of Italian naval aviation in the modern era, modernized to operate on the new Cavour-class aircraft carrier and soon the upcoming Trieste aircraft carrier, where they would be supplemented in the VTOL strike role by F-35B Lightning II fighters.

The AV-8B Plus Harrier, is a modernized version of the venerable AV-8 Harrier, bringing it up to 4th generation fighter standards. The upgrades applied allow this aircraft to not only carry a plethora of new guided ordnance, targeting systems, protective measures, and advanced air-to-air missiles, but also the airframe itself was heavily upgraded over previous AV-8s, with a more powerful engine and large leading edge extensions, allowing the Harrier II to manoeuvre swiftly in ways its predecessors could only imagine.

AV-8B Harrier II Plus is used by the USMC, Spanish Navy, and Italian Navy. Forty-six were built. The Harrier II Plus extends the capabilities of the Harrier with the introduction of a multi-mode radar and beyond-visual-range missile capability. The cockpit is fully integrated for day and night operability and is equipped with head-up and head-down displays, a digital moving map, an inertial navigation system (INS) and a hands-on throttle and stick system (HOTAS).

The Harrier II Plus is capable of deploying a wide range of weapon systems, including the air-to-air AMRAAM and Sparrow missiles, air-to-surface AGM-65 Maverick missiles, anti-ship Harpoon and Sea Eagle missiles, a 25mm cannon, and a range of bombs and rockets. The AIM-120A Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) from Raytheon Missile Systems is an all-weather, fire-and-forget, air-to-air missile, equipped with an active radar seeker and a high-explosive warhead. The range is over 50 miles, and the speed of the missile is 1.2km a second.

AV-8B aircraft have been fitted with the Northrop Grumman Litening II targeting and reconnaissance pod. Litening II consists of a CCD TV camera for video reconnaissance and FLIR and laser spot tracker or rangefinder for targeting.

The AV-8B Plus, Similar to the Night Attack variant, with the addition of a Raytheon APG-65 digital radar to provide day and night and adverse weather capability. The APG-65 is a jam-resistant, all-weather detection and tracking radar. In the air-to-air role, the radar operates in search, track and combat modes. Long-range interception missions use the radar’s long-range detection capability and, for the close-in air defense role, the radar uses rapid acquisition modes for the aircraft’s 25mm cannon and heat-seeking missiles. In the air-to-surface role, the APG-65 radar provides high-resolution, long-range surface mapping and detection, and tracking of land-based and sea-based targets. The radar has the capability to locate small, fast patrol boats in high sea states and to detect large naval ships at long range.

The Pegasus engine 11-61 from Rolls-Royce provides a high thrust-to-weight ratio and retains its performance in hot and high-altitude conditions. The significant aerodynamic features of the aircraft are large Leading-Edge Root Extensions (LERX) and under-fuselage Lift-Improvement Devices (LIDs), drooping ailerons, and the slotted flaps augmented vectored engine thrust.

The Harrier II Plus can climb at a rate of 14,700ft per minute. Its maximum speed is 1,083km per hour. The normal and ferry ranges of the aircraft are 2,574km and 3,300km, respectively. The aircraft’s combat radius is 556km. It weighs around 6.7 tons and its maximum take-off weight is 14.5 tons.

In 1999, Italian AV-8Bs were used for the first time in combat missions when they were deployed aboard Giuseppe Garibaldi, which was participating in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. Italian pilots conducted more than 60 sorties alongside other NATO aircraft, attacking the Yugoslav army and paramilitary forces and bombing the country’s infrastructure with conventional and laser-guided bombs.

The aircraft were updated to allow them to carry AIM-120 AMRAAMs and Joint Direct Attack Munition guided bombs. From November 2001 to March 2002, eight AV-8Bs were embarked aboard Giuseppe Garibaldi and were deployed to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2011, Italian Harriers, operating from Giuseppe Garibaldi, worked alongside Italian Typhoons and aircraft of other nations during Operation Unified Protector, part of the 2011 military intervention in Libya.

According to the plan, Italian Navy AV-8Bs are slated to be replaced by 15 F-35Bs, which will form the air wing of Cavour.

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