Representing the greatest breakthroughs in aircraft technology at the time, the Harrier was the first jet in the Marine inventory capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL). Known as the Harrier Jump Jet, it is capable of taking off vertically, if its load is under the maximum load weight; usually a short take off is performed. The Harrier provides flexibility on the battlefield and gives pilots the ability to attack anywhere.
The first Harrier jets were put into service as early as the late 1960s; various upgrades and modifications were made to the aircraft and a “new” Harrier jet was put into US military service in 1985. Variations of the aircraft have been in active duty since. Used primarily by the US Marines for attack missions, the aircraft can take off from aircraft carriers or smaller amphibious vessels. The Harrier is equipped with air to air sidewinder missiles, air to surface harpoon missiles, cluster bombs, napalm canisters and 25 millimeter GAU-12 Equalizer cannons. As with other US military aircraft, the Harrier is equipped with state of the art avionics, night vision equipment and infrared cameras.
In June 2015 it was announced that the F-35B STOVL, a close cousin of the F-35 Lightning II (aka the Joint Strike Fighter) was to replace the AV-8B Harrier Jet used by the US Marine Corps, however, the retirement date of the 108 AV-8B Harrier jump jets has been extended to 2025.
Watch a Harrier Jet take off from an aircraft carrier: