The AV-8B Harrier was, and still is, the only tactical aircraft that can deploy with the US Marine Corps on amphibious assault ships and provide air cover and close air support separate from large deck aircraft carriers. Having seen action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Harrier II returned to the theatre from March 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the initial conflict some 76 AV-8Bs were deployed, providing more than 40 per cent of the 3rd Marine Air Wing's fixed-wing offensive firepower. Around 60 of these aircraft were sea-based aboard four 'Harrier Carriers', while a unit flew jets from Ahmed al Jaber, in Kuwait. Unlike in 1991, when Harrier IIs employed unguided weapons, 79 per cent of the ordnance dropped was precision-guided. This was primarily due to the AV-8B's upgrading to Night Attack or radar-equipped configuration, and the introduction of the Litening II targeting pod. Following the occupation of Iraq by Coalition troops, Harrier IIs remained in-theatre supporting anti-insurgent operations through to 2008 as part of OIF II-VI.
Read an extract of AV-8B Harrier II Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom I-VI