Home Americas USMC Harriers flying from USS Iwo Jima perform long-range strike into Lithuania

USMC Harriers flying from USS Iwo Jima perform long-range strike into Lithuania

AV-8B Harrier II strike mission in Lithuania
An AV-8B Harrier II with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) prepares for takeoff from USS Iwo Jima on May 13, 2021. Photo: US Navy

US Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) carried out a long-range strike from the North Atlantic into Lithuania’s Cudgel Range on May 13, 2021.

The three US Marine Corps Harriers launched from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). The Harriers flew a non-stop round trip mission to Lithuania, approximately 2,000 nautical miles, supported by US Air Force KC-135 aerial refueling capabilities.

As the division of Harriers entered Lithuanian airspace, Lithuanian Joint Tactical Air Controllers supported the mission by providing routing and terminal control to the US Marine Corps jets, ensuring a successful mission.

The Harriers dropped inert MK-82 ordnance on the Cudgel Range.

The USMC continues to operate the Harrier despite the entrance of the F-35B short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft into service. The Harriers are expected to keep flying until 2029 as they are gradually being phased out.

To enable the aircraft to remain relevant, the service plans to equip the Harriers with new avionics and software upgrades, as well as the capability to carry AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II and AIM-120C AMRAAM missiles alongside a LITENING targeting pod.

“Conducting a joint long-range mission supported by Allies and partners demonstrates the strength and versatility of the NATO Alliance,” said Col. Eric D. Cloutier, commanding officer, 24th MEU. “Our ability to project power and execute missions in a dynamic security and maritime environment is a true testament to the power of teamwork.”

The AV-8Bs are attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced, the aviation combat element of 24th MEU. Harriers are capable of conducting deep and close air support to provide the MEU an overall offensive air support capability.

Combining the old – with the Harriers that first entered service in 1985 – and the new with the at-sea debut of the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with an East Coast Marine Expeditionary Unit, USS Iwo Jima started its deployment in March this year.

The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (IWOARG) and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have roughly 4,300 Sailors and Marines. The ARG-MEU is deployed to Sixth Fleet in support of regional NATO Allies and partners as well as US national security interests in Europe and Africa.