Tag Archives: VMA-211

VMA-211 mourns its Commander as it pushes forward to complete deployment in Afghanistan

Although it suffered the worst hit to enemy fire since WWII, enduring not only the loss of eight AV-8B+ Harrier jets in the Taliban attack on Camp Bastion’s airfiled, Marine Attack Squadron 211 remains fully operational and continues to fly in Helmand province, to provide support to ground troops in Southwest Afghanistan area of operation.

The insurgent attack that cost the life of the squadron’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, and wiped out the majority of the American jump jets operating “in theater”, has not prevented the U.S. Marine Corps unit to fly the daily close air support missions for the infantry battalions or the patrol owerwatch sorties, aimed to spot typical ambush positions.

In fact, on Sept. 26, the squadron received six new airframes, both in the VMA-211 “Avengers” and in the VMA-231 “Ace of Spades” markings, to continue the deployment.

One of the aircraft is painted in memory of Lt. Col. Christopher K. Raible and Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, who were killed during an attack on Camp Bastion Sept. 14, 2012.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

Photo: This is what remains of a U.S. Marine Corps Harrier jet after the Taliban attack on Camp Bastion

The following picture, sent by a reader of the blog, shows what remains of one of the six Harrier jets in the aftermath of the Taliban attack on Camp Bastion on Sept. 14, 2012.

As a result of the attack, that cost the U.S. the worst air loss to enemy fire in one day since the Vietnam War, two Marines, including the Commanding Officer of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211, six AV-8B+ aircraft were destroyed and two more severly damaged (possibly beyond repair).

Whereas the two surviving planes were immediately flown back to the U.S., new airframes (in the unit markings of VMA-211) have arrived at Camp Bastion airfield to replace those destroyed in the Taliban attack.

Source: unknown

Salva

Camp Bastion attack could be U.S. Marine Corps Harrier fleet’s ground zero

As already explained, the recent Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, that cost the U.S. the worst air loss to enemy fire in one day since the Vietnam War, almost wiped out the entire U.S. Marine Harrier force in Afghanistan: besides killing two Marines, including the Commanding Officer of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211, six AV-8B+ aircraft were destroyed and two more severly injured.

Since the VMA-211 “Avengers” had deployed to Afghanistan with 10 airframes, only two Harriers survived the insurgent attack in one of the strategical airbases in Afghanistan (aircraft that were immediately returned to the U.S.).

In other words, in a matter of a hours, the U.S., that had moved VMA-211 from Kandahar to Camp Bastion on Jul.1 to have the planes closer to where the troops need support, not only lost one of its most valuable CAS (Close Air Support) platforms in Afghanistan, but also about 1/15th of the entire American Jump Jet fleet.

Even though you may believe that the loss of 8 Harriers is not a big deal when you have a fleet of 120+ such planes, you have to consider that  about 15 planes are TAV-8B two seater jump jets used for training purposes, along with about the same amount of single seaters.

Moreover, of the remaining Harriers (about 100), not all airframes can be used in combat with the same effectiveness, because the U.S. Marine Corps, along with the upgraded AV-8B+ (like those destroyed at Camp Bastion), that features the APG-65 Radar and the Litening pod, flies also the less capable AV-8B.

Hence the extent of losses suffered in Afghanistan is higher than the 7 percent and could be a big deal for the U.S. Marine Corps that has to carefully ration the employment of the Harriers if it wants to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will eventually be replaced by the F-35B.

Well before the Camp Bastion attack, to increase the availability of spare parts and extend the life of the Harrier, the Marines procured second hand RAF Harrier GR9s.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

The second generation AV-8B Harrier, developed in the first ’80s, was well suited for U.S. Marine Corps requirement for a Close Air Support aircraft able to give effective tactical support to amphibious landing operations. Over the years, it was also upgraded to carry AMRAAM missiles, JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), and today the plane (operating also with both the Spanish and Italian Navy) is able to undertake CAS missions, naval Theater Air Defense and precision Air-to-Ground tasks.

That’s why the Harrier is so important for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Beyond the AV-8B+

The USMC and the Italian Navy plan to replace their Harriers with the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) conceived for Jump Jet users: U.S. Marines, IT Navy and Royal Navy / Royal Air Force (the first “international” F-35 is the F-35B BK-01 / ZM135, that made its maiden flight in April 2012). Althought it’s not among the AV-8B+ operators, the Italian Air Force is expected to operate 15 F-35Bs along with 60 F-35As.

The STOVL aircraft will be a swing role platform suited to be effective in a net-centric environment, where it will perform both sensor and shooter roles. But it will not be fully operational before the late 2020s, and the USMC is planning to upgrade its Harriers in order to keep them in service until a significant amout of F-35Bs will be operational.

Not only the USMC will have to upgrade the jump jets.

Probably, both Spanish and Italian Navy will have no choice but to upgrade their Harriers, which could be really effective with SDBs (Small Diameter Bombs) and new avionics, considering that the Air Superiority within a naval group area of operations is provided by the combination of both airborne and ship-based capabilities.

Nevertheless, since it doesn’t partecipate to the JSF program, Spain will probably lose its embarked fixed wing component if it doesn’t acquire the F-35B.

Written with The Aviationist’s “Skipper”

Commanding Officer of the Harrier squadron decimated at Camp Bastion among the Marines killed in the Taliban attack

The Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 “Avengers” that was decimated on Friday Sept. 14, when a force of insurgents attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand, has not only lost two Marines and eight of the ten AV-8B+ Harrier jets deployed in Afghanistan.

According to UTSanDiego.com, Marine and family sources have confirmed that Lt. Col. Chris “Otis” Raible, commanding officer of the Yuma squadron is among the killed in action of the unprecedented attack that resulted in the destruction of six jump jets and significant damage (possibly beyond repair) to two more Harriers belonging to the VMA-211, the unit he commanded.

The VMA-211 is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Raible led the “Avengers” when the unit, deployed to Afghanistan in April 2012, relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1 and he’s depicted in most of the images released by the U.S. Marine Corps to give account of the transfer.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

Camp Bastion was in close proximity to all the units they supported and this gave the VMA-211 the opportunity to conduct more combat operations and communicate more effectively with the ground combat element.

Unfortunately neither Raible nor the rest of the “Avengers” could predict the attack that cost the U.S. the worst air loss to enemy fire in one day since the Vietnam War, that has rendered the Squadron unable to support the troops in the ground and compelled the Marine Corps to fly the remaining two airframes back home.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

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

On Friday Sept. 14, 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.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps