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Marines with Marine Attack Squadron 211, out of the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., mount an AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile onto the wing of an AV-8B Harrier June 8, 2009, at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. The squadron became the first Marine unit to launch the AMRAAM from a Harrier. VMA-211 is currently deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and is participating in Exercise Talisman Saber in Australia.(Photo by Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Cordero)

Photo by Photo by Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Cordero

Yuma's VMA-211 first to fire missile from Harrier

25 Jun 2009 | Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

Yuma’s Marine Attack Squadron 211 became the first AV-8B Harrier unit to test-fire an air-to-air missile capable of engaging unseen enemies June 8, 2009, over an ocean test range about 200 miles off Okinawa, Japan.

The AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile extends the reach of a Harrier’s punch, due to the weapon’s range.

“The AMRAAM makes the AV-8B more lethal,” said Capt. Michael W. McKenney, VMA-211 pilot who launched the missile.

Currently, the Harrier uses AIM-9 Sidewinders as their air-to-air missile. However, those track infrared energy from the target, which needs to be within visual range when launched.

Depending on the variant, the AMRAAM has a range of up to 65 miles — more than double the Sidewinder — and uses an active radar to adjust course midflight in order to track and hit its target, according to Raytheon, the missile’s manufacturer.

Launching from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, McKenney successfully engaged a target drone glider with the 12-foot-long missile, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brad J. Wilde, squadron ordnance officer.

“It worked as advertised,” said Master Sgt. Earnest Chaney, the squadron’s aviation ordnance chief.

Often associated with close-air support for ground forces, the Harrier is feared in the skies as well.

“The Harrier has a long history of proven lethality in both the air-to-ground and air-to-air arena,” said Lt. Col. Vance L. Cryer, the squadron’s commanding officer. “In fact, Harriers have the most air-to-air kills of any current Marine Corps aviation platform.”

Harriers are routinely attached to Marine expeditionary units, and with the increased range, the Harriers also would better equipped to defend a Navy ship or a Marine transport aircraft they were escorting.

VMA-211 is currently deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The missile has been in use since 1991, but never fired by a Harrier in training or combat, said Cryer.

“VMA-211 was fortunate to be chosen for this particular honor due to operational experience,” said Cryer. “The entire squadron weighed in to ensure the shoot was a success.”

The squadron is currently participating in Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 in Australia. The Wake Island Avengers deployed from Yuma in January and are expected to return home later this year.

NOTE: Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher of Stars and Stripes contributed to this report.

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