Marine Attack Squadron loses eight Harrier jets in worst U.S. air loss in one day since Vietnam War

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin T. Smalley, AV-8B Harrier pilot, Marine Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), launches at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 1, 2012. Smalley launched the aircraft in support of ground combat operations.

Taliban’s attack on Camp Bastion killed two U.S. Marines and destroyed or severely damaged eight U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and a United States Air Force C-130.

On Friday Sept. 14, 2012, at around 10.15 p.m. local time, a force of Taliban gunmen attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.

About 15 insurgents (19 according to some reports), wearing U.S. Army uniforms, organized into three teams, breached the perimeter fence and launched an assault on the airfield, that includes the U.S. Camp Leatherneck and the UK’s Camp Bastion, where British royal Prince Harry, an AH-64 Apache pilot (initially believed to be the main target of the attack) is stationed.

The attackers fired machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars against aircraft parked next to the airport’s runway. Two U.S. Marines were killed in the subsequent fighting whereas eight of 10 AV-8B+ Harrier jets of the Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were destroyed (6) or heavily damaged (2): the worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War.

The VMA-211 “Avengers” is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It deployed to Afghanistan in April and relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1.

According to Wikipedia, the VMA-211 last suffered this level of losses on Dec. 8, 1941.

Considered that the U.S. Marine Corps are believed to be equipped with slightly more than 120 AV-8B+, the attack on Camp Bastion has wiped out 1/15th of the entire U.S. Jump Jet fleet and a large slice of the Yuma-based squadron. A serious problem for the USMC, that was compelled to buy second hand RAF Harrier GR9s to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will be replaced by the F-35B.

Furthermore, the VMA-211 was the only Marine Harrier unit in Afghanistan: until the destroyed airframes will be replaced (most probably, by another Squadron), the coalition ground forces can’t count on the CAS (Close Air Support) provided by the Harrier.

Tom Meyer has contributed to this post.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin T. Smalley, left, AV-8B Harrier pilot, and Lance Cpl. Ryan P. Eggemeyer, plane captain both with Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), perform function checks on the aircraft before flight at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 1, 2012. They conducted pre-flight checks before launching the aircraft.
About David Cenciotti 4453 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

21 Comments

  1. Your report takes no account of battle damage repair, until official sources declare what has been written off it is premature to assume each airframe attacked is beyond repair.

  2. If they were somewhat salvageable, it would have to be by Boeing’s techs here in the states. I remember VMA-513 flew a harrier through some trees during a night training op where the pilot fired a hellfire rocket while wearing nvg’s and was temporarily blinded. I took the better part of a year just to fix some moderate airframe damage.

    • No such thing as a hellfire rocket… He was shooting Rocket. The AV8 is not authorized and not wired to carry and fire hellfire missles.

        • The Harrier is not capable of carriage/release of the AGM-114 Hellfire. A pod of 4 rockets would be a LAU-10 5″ rockets, and never heard of a 32 shot rocket pod. That would be impressive. In my 22 years in Aviation Ordnance I’ve never heard nor seen a 32 shot pod.

    • I think you may have your missiles confused, the AV-8B is not capable of carriage or release of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

  3. My son was in a air wing support capacity at Leatherneck and assisted in the moving and support of 211. As a Mother who was reassured by her Marine son “Don’t worry Mom, nothing ever happens at Leatherneck, it’s too big, too remote, and too secure. I’m perfectly safe” this is very concerning.

    During my son’s post deployment leave he showed me pictures of the hangers and his barracks that was right next to the wire. The problems are only increasing, where is the media outrage.

    • No need for media outrage. They are Marines. They are supposed to be close to the battle. Words of reassurance are for concerned mothers. War is war, no matter where you are in the AOR.

    • As a father and father-in-law of 3 active duty Marines, I know how you are feeling. Between them there are 3 tours at Leatherneck, 1 at Bastion, and 1 coming up next month at Bastion again. I’ve heard all the don’t worry dad I need to hear. Being a Vietnam Marine, I know better. Semper-Fi, my sons and brothers. God Speed, and do what you do best.

  4. I wish American forces could get the same value for destroyed targets as the the Taliban seem to get.

  5. As an Israeli I m amazed. A military base with no peripherial guard, dogs just walking in and shoot destroy 8 fighter jets? Is this the America that suposed to watch the Iranian Nuclear bomb? Sorry, US is great technology but fucked managers and zero strategic thinking.

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