THE US MARINE CORPS should scrap its $2.2 billion programme to remanufacture 73 day-attack McDonnell Douglas (MDC) AV-8B Harrier II very-short-take-off-and-landing aircraft to the night-attack radar-equipped version, and instead buy new AV-8Bs, says the US General Accounting Office (GAO).

The investigative arm of the US Congress says that it would be cheaper to buy new aircraft from MDC under a multi-year procurement scheme than to continue with the ten-year aircraft-modernisation project.

The USMC, received its first remanufactured Harrier II Plus in late January and the second aircraft, is expected to be delivered ahead of schedule in April, says the US Navy.

Under the programme day-attack Harriers receive new fuselages, APG-65 multi-mode radars and higher-thrust Rolls-Royce Pegasus F402-RR-408 engines. Night-vision goggles, an upgraded cockpit and provision for advanced weapons such as the JDAM/JSOW are also part of the programme effort.

Conversion of the first aircraft began in August 1994. The 18-month remanufacturing time span, is expected to be shortened, to about 15 months, for subsequent aircraft rebuilds.

MDC says that the aircraft-remanufacturing programme yields significant cost savings over production of new aircraft, but the GAO estimates that it would be more cost-effective to procure new AV-8Bs.

The USN estimates that it costs $23-30 million to remanufacture an AV-8B, against $30 million to produce a new Harrier II Plus. The GAO calculates that a new aircraft would cost only $24 million.

The GAO questions whether the Naval Aviation Depot in Cherry Point, North Carolina, can meet production schedules and cost targets. Delays have resulted, from the inability of MDC and vendors, to provide components in time the GAO adds.

Source: Flight International