One of our readers has found a Flight Global piece which confirms the USMC plan to keep Harriers going out to 2030 has good logistics merit behind it due to the purchase of retired UK Harrier airframes.
This will be an important point to consider in relation to the coming DOD budget sequestration which will remove $50B per year.
For those that think STOVL capability is important, they now have breathing space until or if the F-35B STOVL Joint Strike Fighter gets fielded.
Not mentioned much in the conversation is how the USMC will be able to afford annual squadron operations budgets which could double as a result of predicted, high, F-35B cost-per-flying hour figures.
Also it is the F-35B STOVL requirement which has dragged down the A and C F-35 with numerous development challenges in an effort to have the short-take-off and landing capability while keeping a joint design with the other variants.
It is quite possible that conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) and aircraft carrier (CV) variants of the F-35 would have been well on the way to being fielded by now if it wasn't for the STOVL requirement.
STOVL land-basing close to the battlefield (the whole justification of USMC Harrier ops to realize high daily sortie-rates for close-air-support missions) will be a problem with the F-35B due to its huge fuel requirements (7 tons of fuel per sortie) from a austere base. Maintenance complexity of the F-35B will also be a challenge. After over 10 years of program development, it is yet to be seen how the F-35 will meet one of its key performance perimeters (KPP) (sortie rate per day)--3 for the CV and CTOL and 4 for the STOVL--and the other KPP; mission capability rates in the high 90 percentile group. At this time, F-35B advocate retired USMC General Trautman is only talking theory, not fact.
Some STOVL advocates like Second Line of Defense (SLD) also fail to mention the shrinking number of flat-top amphibious ships which will be retiring in the coming years with limited dollars to afford a 1-1 replacement scheme.
Funding 10 replacement amphibious flat-tops could require $30B in the coming years.
With poor purchasing plans in place by the U.S. Navy, money will be wasted on the faulty and paper-tiger Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the expensive and faulty F-35B/C and wasted manpower and sustainment funds on the gold-plated and vulnerable DDX Zumwalt-class destroyer.
As one USAF general put it in a briefing recently in relation to U.S. DOD budget prospects, "2012 will be bad, 2013 will be worse."
Programs that are realistically sustainable out to 2030 have a good chance of surviving the coming budget problems. Those that don't, won't. With limited money and classic Hornets approaching death-hospice decision time, it is quite possible that the only USMC close air support jet available in the 2020s will be the Harrier.