A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II: which is the better attack aircraft? The unbiased perspective of a Navy A-7 pilot.

A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II: Which is the better attack aircraft? The unbiased perspective of a Navy A-7 pilot.

By Dario Leone
Jan 19 2024
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The A-7E Corsair II

Developed to replace the legendary A-4, the A-7 Corsair II brought no significant advantage in speed over the Skyhawk but boasted nearly double the ordnance payload and a greater range.

The final version of the Corsair II was the A-7E, which first flew in November 1968, and featured a 14,250 lb. static thrust Allison TF41-A-2 engine, improved avionics and hydraulic systems, and a multi-barrel M61 cannon. Over the course of the production of the A-7E, which encompassed 535 airplanes, such features as Target-Recognition Attack Multi-Sensors (TRAM) and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) were incorporated to improve the airplane’s attack capabilities.

The AV-8B Harrier II

The AV-8B Harrier II V/STOL strike aircraft was designed to replace the AV-8A and the A-4M light attack aircraft. The Marine Corps requirement for a V/STOL light attack force has been well documented since the late 1950s.

Combining tactical mobility, responsiveness, reduced operating cost and basing flexibility, both afloat and ashore, V/STOL aircraft are particularly well suited to the special combat and expeditionary requirements of the Marine Corps. The AV-8BII+ features the APG-65 Radar common to the F/A-18, as well as all previous systems and features common to the AV-8BII.

A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II

Which aircraft is better in the attack role, the A-7E Corsair II or the AV-8B Harrier II?

David Tussey, former US Navy A-7E Corsair II pilot, explains on Quora;

US Navy A-7 pilot recalls refueling every 30–40 minutes from USAF KC-135s during a Corsair II 5-ship TRANSPAC flight

‘Well, as the saying goes – “Horses for courses”.

‘And as they also say – “Define better”.

‘The A-7 was built in the mid-60s, and updated in the 70s. The AV-8B Harrier II was built in the 80s and updated in the 90s. The A-7 was replaced by the A-10, F-16 and F/A-18 the Harrier is being replaced by the F-35B STOVL model.

‘So of course, the AV-8B Harrier II Plus is the more advanced airplane. It even can serve in an air-to-air role.

‘But those are two different airplanes for different missions at two different times in history.

‘I flew the A-7 in the Navy, about 2000 hrs and I have one flight in the TAV-8B. I have a couple of flights in the AV-8B simulator with the “night attack” FLIR. Here’s my thoughts.’

The A-7 in service with the USAF and US Navy

He continues;

The A-7 was designed in the mid-60s to meet an immediate need for a better carrier-based bomb truck, replacing the aging A-1 Skyraider and A-4 Skyhawk. Vought succeeded. The A-7 carried more, further. It is, of course, carrier based.

VA-86 A-7 Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-7E Corsair II VA-86 Sidewinders, AJ400 / 159292 / 1977

‘During Vietnam, the US Army was pushing the USAF to provide better Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft. DoD pressed the USAF to use the A-7 and thus the A-7D was born in the early 70s. This is important, because the USAF insisted on major engine and significant avionics upgrades for the “D” model.

‘Those “D” upgrades made it into the USN A-7E Corsair II model, the one that I flew. The “E” model had amazing avionics and one of the first true digital weapons computer, but it was not particularly high performance and thus was seen as somewhat vulnerable as the 90s threat evolved.

The AV-8B in service with the USMC

‘Meanwhile, the USMC became interested in the UK Hawker Siddeley AV-8A. They liked the fact that it could operate from amphibious assault ships, which fits in well with the USMC mission. With the Harrier the Marines could have an amphibious assault ship that could also provide tactical air support.

‘And of course the V/STOL capability of the Harrier is what made this possible. Win-win for the USMC.

‘That led to improving on the original AV-8A (which had a terrible accident rate), and ultimately the AV-8B, which despite having a single letter designation difference, is almost a completely new airplane.

‘The AV-8B performed well in many scenarios, particularly in Desert Storm. It had less range and payload than the A-7, but it was faster and more lethal. And the USN couldn’t “poach” the AV-8B to augment a carrier air wing. It had some great, effective upgrades throughout its life. Look at that F/A-18 radar in the nose of this baby, and the targeting pod on the centerline. Nice…’

A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II: which is the better attack aircraft? The unbiased perspective of a Navy A-7 pilot.

A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II: which is the better attack aircraft?

Tussey concludes;

‘So, if you’re an amphibious assault command, the Harrier is far preferred. Even in the 90s, the Harrier was highly capable and quite versatile.

‘If you’re fighting a low-intensity conflict ashore or asea in the 70s or 80s, the Corsair is your baby.’

A-7E Corsair II Vs AV-8B Harrier II: which is the better attack aircraft? The unbiased perspective of a Navy A-7 pilot.
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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