Since the United States and coalition partners began its anti-ISIS mission in 2014, the Middle East's skies have become crowded with the very best in modern air power. The air is full of flashy fourth-generation fighters (like the Air Force's F-15s and F-16s and the Navy's F/A-18E/Fs), and newer fifth-generation fighters (like the F-22). But also flying proudly with these other planes is a Marine Corps mainstay generally not considered a fourth-generation platform and unlikely to win any beauty contests—the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II. That plane has, time and again, proven itself a highly effective multirole combat aircraft.
With Marine Corps Class A aviation mishaps at a five-year high, the branch’s decision back in April to extend the life of the AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft — an about-face from an earlier 2014 replacement program despite the jump-jet’s hazard-prone record — seemed strange. But a new internal Department of Defense investigation captures the stark consequences of the accident-prone aircraft’s newfound lease on life.