The mishap took place March 8 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, which is deployed in the U.S. Fifth Fleet with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
Around 1 p.m. that day, the Harrier, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced), had been preparing for takeoff ahead of a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Stephens said. While Stephens did not specify the nature of the mission, aircraft from MEUs deployed to the Middle East have frequently been tasked with airstrikes on Islamic State targets and with surveillance and reconnaissance missions in support of the coalition fight against the extremists.
While applying takeoff power, the Harrier caught fire while still aboard the deck of the Kearsarge, according to an incident report from the Naval Safety Center. The Harrier's pilot was uninjured.
"The pilot safely exited the aircraft on deck with the assistance of Kearsarge and 26 MEU flight deck firefighters," Stephens told Military.com.
No other personnel were injured in the mishap. But damage to the aircraft totaled at least $2 million, making the incident a Class A mishap. Stephens offered no details about the damage to the Harrier, simply calling it "extensive."
The mishap is now under investigation by Navy and Marine Corps officials, who will determine the cause of the fire, he said.
The incident brings total Marine Corps aviation Class A mishaps to seven within the last 12 months, resulting in 22 U.S. military fatalities.
A recent congressional hearing with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller raised the question of whether readiness shortfalls had contributed to what has become a five-year high in the aviation mishap rate.
Neller noted that the Corps was in the process of recapitalizing all its aircraft and had had to contend with readiness shortfalls in every air frame.
The Harrier, which has been in service for the Marine Corps since 1985, is set to be replaced by the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter in 2025.