VMA-311 AV-8B Harriers departure from MCAS Iwakuni represents the end of an era for Marine Corps aviation
On May 31, 2017 AV-8B Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 311 departed Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, Japan, as part of the Unit Deployment Program.
As told by Lance Cpl. Carlos Jimenez in the article VMA-311 says sayonara to Japan, VMA-311 is based out of Yuma, Arizona, and is expected to be the last AV-8B Harrier squadron forward deployed to MCAS Iwakuni.
“This is the end of an era where decades of experience gained by AV-8B pilots and maintainers . . . will be carried on into a new era,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. William Millett, the operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 12.
The eight AV-8B Harrier aircraft of the unit arrived at MCAS Iwakuni on Jan. 28, 2017, to carry out their mission as the fixed-wing offensive aviation assets for the aviation combat element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
“Our mission out here was to conduct aviation operations in support of the 31st MEU,” explained U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Trevino, an AV-8B Harrier pilot with VMA-311. “It’s good to get together with all the elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. It gives us a chance to work together, conduct amphibious operations and really get everyone on the same page to train together.”
Trevino said conducting urban training and practicing tracking different targets over nearby cities and landscapes was a good learning experience.
During their stay at MCAS Iwakuni, VMA-311 Harriers not only conducted a wide variety of missions with the MAGTF such as strike coordination and armed reconnaissance, but acted also as adversary aircraft for the F-35B Lightning II in simulated air-to-air combat training.
The squadron was integrated into MAG-12’s local operations, and they conducted two MEU patrols around the western pacific region. Between those two patrols, they executed aviation exercise Max Thunder out of the Republic of Korea, where they flew with both U.S. and ROK forces.
“They’ve done what all Harrier squadrons have come to be known for in this area,” said Millett. “Supporting theater security cooperation events, as well as showing the U.S. flag on the 31st MEU.”
The next stop for the squadron will be Australia with the USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back on the boat, reintegrating with the MEU and being able to do support operations down in Australia and wherever else we may be required,” said Trevino. “It’ll be great to work with foreign allied services and see how they do business. We’ll teach them what we can and learn from them along the way.”
Named after a bird of prey, the Harrier is primarily employed on light attack or multi-role missions ranging from close air support of ground troops to armed reconnaissance.
With the production of approximately 340 fixed-wing vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft, the last being delivered in 2003, the AV-8B carried more fuel, had more lift and better cruise characteristics than earlier AV-8As.
The squadron’s departure represents the end of an era for U.S. attack aircraft in Japan and is a significant milestone for MCAS Iwakuni and Marine Corps aviation.
Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Joseph Abrego, Lance Cpl. Cody J. Ohira, Lance Cpl. Carlos Jimenez and Sgt. Nathan Wicks / U.S. Marine Corps