Marines experience their worst air disaster in nearly half a century

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

You may not have heard it like this, but earlier this month one of the worst U.S military air disasters in nearly half a century happened during a terrorist attack on the airfield at Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan.

U.S. Marine Corps Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), based at Yuma Marine Corps Base, Ariz., not only had two Marines killed, but also had six late-model AV-8B II Harrier jump jets destroyed, and another two of the aircraft damaged likely beyond repair.

That's eight sophisticated combat aircraft out of commission. A Marine attack squadron normally has a complement of about 12 aircraft, which means VMA-211 effectively is out of business. The attack has been called the worst Marine Corps aviation disaster since the Vietnam Tet Offensive in 1968.

This squadron has a storied history, and it's unclear what will be the ultimate resolution of this situation. The AV-8B -- designed by Boeing predecessor McDonnell Douglas -- hasn't been manufactured in years, so replacing those aircraft is probably out of the question.

It's possible the squadron eventually could refit with F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters, or perhaps even with the new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, but whatever happens, it probably won't happen quickly.

For a squadron to switch aircraft is not a trivial process. Pilots must be retrained, ground crewmen must requalify on new aircraft, logistics, support, and maintenance must be retooled. Suffice it to say, this squadron as an independent unit effectively will be grounded for quite some time.

VMA-211 is nicknamed the Wake Island Avengers. It's a name its members take to heart.

On 8 Dec. 1941 -- one day after Pearl Harbor -- the Japanese attacked U.S. forces based on Wake Island in the Western Pacific. In the initial attack, VMA-211 had seven of its 12 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft destroyed on the ground. The remaining five were destroyed in action, after which VMA-211 became a ground unit until the surrender of Wake Island on 23 Dec. 1941.

VMA-211's Henry T. Elrod, was the first U.S. Marine airman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.

In the terrorist attack in Afghanistan earlier this month, Taliban attackers wore American military uniforms, which added to the confusion. All the attackers reportedly were killed in a firefight, but the damage was done.

We'll have to wait and see what ultimately happens to VMA-211.

Previous Blog Posts

Capital Hill budget deal could restore tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon

December 17, 2013

Hacker drone story a cautionary tale about the need for unmanned vehicle data security

December 10, 2013

Lack of money for systems upgrades threatens to maintain wind-farm radar dead spots

December 3, 2013

Engineering support contracts indicate the Pentagon is sinking into the Mothball Strategy

November 26, 2013

The revenge of COTS: an ageing commercial technology base complicates military supply chain

November 19, 2013

Navy's newest destroyers evolve to fill traditional battleship roles

November 12, 2013

International suspicions of U.S. encryption technology putting defense companies in a bind

November 5, 2013

Defense industry left guessing as Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

October 29, 2013

These are tough times for the combat vehicle and vetronics industries

October 22, 2013

Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

October 15, 2013

Government shutdown reduces military contracting, increasing pressure on U.S. defense industry

October 7, 2013

Potential good news: has U.S. defense spending finally bottomed-out?

October 1, 2013

Is robotics revolution the first glimpse of a fundamental change in human evolution?

September 24, 2013

Obsolescent parts: are we enhancing military readiness or creating a hollow force?

September 17, 2013

For the high-tech warfighter, the future of electronics-laden uniforms is here

September 10, 2013

New generation of embedded computing thermal management in development at GE

September 3, 2013

Trading bus stops for credit cards: how far embedded computing has come in three decades

August 27, 2013

Unmanned vehicle industry stands at the doorstep of a fundamental transformation

August 20, 2013

AUVSI 2013, one of the biggest unmanned vehicles shows in the world, opens this week in Washington

August 13, 2013

The Washington Post, under Jeff Bezos, could lead the way for media in the 21st Century

August 6, 2013

Are costs and vulnerabilities making military leaders nervous about satellite communications?

July 30, 2013

Unmanned aircraft carrier that travels beneath the waves may be in the Navy's future

July 23, 2013

Electronic warfare programs kick into high gear with a flurry of contract activity

July 16, 2013

How vulnerable are U.S. Navy vessels to advanced anti-ship cruise missiles?

July 9, 2013

First came VHSIC, then came MIMIC, and now comes ACE to push electronics technology

July 2, 2013

The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

July 2015
Volume 26, Issue 7

All Access Sponsors

Download Our Apps




Connect with Us


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Cyber Security

Monthly newsletter covering cyber warfare, cyber security, information warfare, and information security technologies, products, contracts, and procurement opportunities

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Electronic Warfare

Quarterly newsletter covering technologies and applications in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, optical warfare, and spectrum warfare.

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles