Review: DCS AV-8B N/A Harrier II by Razbam Simulations
Updated: 1 day ago
Initially released into early access in late 2017, the Harrier II is one of the most interesting modules currently available in Digital Combat Simulator World. Mainly thanks to its unique design, advanced systems and special flight characteristics.
In this review we will be taking a look into several different parts of the module and evaluating if this powerful, chubby bird is a fit for you. These points will be divided into several sections:
External and internal 3D models
Visual and sound effects
Ease of use and learning curve
Companion AI assets
Is this aircraft for you?
This review was initially released on the 1th of August, 2020. At that time the module was still in its early-access (EA) period. I have modified and updated this review as of July 1st, 2022 to better reflect the current state of this module.
EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS
RAZBAM has done quite a good job modeling the Harrier to near perfection, both externally and internally. This is something not uncommon with this third party developer as they have shown similar levels of quality on their other modules. The external model is excellent. From the nose-mounted camera to the beacon lights. The animation of the nozzles is pretty good and the stairs that deploys when the canopy is open give the Harrier a very believable feel to it. Let's hope that they keep similar or better attention to detail on their upcoming modules.
ADDEMDUM (7/1/2022): In terms of textures, this model could benefit from a slight rework to its Normal maps, which are the ones that create fake depth in a model. As of version 220.127.116.11783, these seem to have strange artifacts around the rivets and panel lines, which gives the model an eerie look when viewed from certain angles. Examples of this effect can be seen above, pay attention to the artifacting that occurs around the rivets and panels.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
One detail that I found pretty amusing is the wind vane that sits right in front of the canopy. This vane's illumination is controlled not by the external lights panel but from the cockpit lights panel. It is one of those details that would normally be overlooked but seeing it work correctly gave me a pleasant surprise.
The cockpit is a faithful recreation. It has a weathered-out look which makes it feel lived-in like many operational birds out there, even the screens have fingerprints on them! The internal lighting is marvelous, in part due to the way that the roughmets and normals were handled, making the way that they reflect the light from the flood lights very believable.
Overall, this has got to be one of my favorite cockpits currently available in the sim, both from a design and modeling standpoint. The VR pilot is very well modeled as well!
VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS
Visually, this aircraft has some pretty good looking effects such as over wing vapor while at high Angle of attack (AoA). This, alongside the abundant smoke produced while in VTOL or even during cruise flight, gives the Harrier a nice immersion factor.
Next is the sound. This is one area which RAZBAM had to nail perfectly. The Harrier has such a unique sounding engine that getting this part wrong would be a detriment to the module as a whole. I am happy to inform that the sounds are brilliantly done and implemented like they should be. From start-up to shutdown, you feel the engine alive behind you, roaring with the identifiable high pitch tone of the Pegasus! This aircraft has got to have one of the loudest engines in-game, which makes it a joy to listen during a fly-by if you are wearing headphones. It is also one of the most identifiable sounds from the ground, even from miles away, thanks to the very high pitch frequencies of the Pegasus engine as it spools up and down. That and the smoke plume which can be seen from even more far away.
Engine while on the ground: (Idle-->Full Power-->Idle)
Engine while in-flight: (Idle-->Full Power-->Idle)
Fly-by at 510 knots, full power: (Volume warning)
If I am completely honest, this is the hardest category to comment on when it comes to the Harrier. Seeing as it is the only VTOL jet in the simulator, there isn't a direct comparison to be made with any other module as of the writing of this review. I do not have any experience with VTOL aircraft in real life either, so my opinion here only reflects what my instinct and experience with other aircraft have taught me about practical aerodynamics and flight modeling from an end-user standpoint.
It feels "right enough" as there are some things that do feel a bit off, such as the lack of a more pronounced buffeting effect while entering a stall. In other words, sometimes it feels like there isn't enough feedback being given to the player in either high AoA or stall scenarios. Just a tiny bit more would do the trick. Don't get me wrong, this module is a joy to fly in almost every circumstance. If I were to describe flying it, I'd say it is a mix between the Viggen and the Warthog. In a quote from one of my inspirations, Laobi, on his first impressions of the module back when it first launched:
"It neither crawls around like the A-10 nor does it split spacetime like the Viggen".
That being said, having the possibility to do VIFFING in DCS is amazing and I wouldn't take it over anything else. Even with its flaws, it is still one of the most enjoyable aircraft to fly in DCS right now. It is very hard to stall it if you pay attention to what you are doing and its flight computer does not feel as restrictive as it does on other aircraft.
There is noticeable compressibility and flutter at high speed, effects that are more noticeable as your loadout weight and drag increases. The Harrier will let you know if you are pushing it a bit too hard. Those effects, alongside its unique flight characteristics make it very fun to fly and learn. Just do not expect to beat Flankers and Fulcrums on BFM scenarios pretty often, that is just not your forté with this aircraft.
This bird can do almost everything you could want, all with the exception of beyond visual range (BVR) air combat, prolonged dogfights or anti-ship. The Harrier is a ground pounder through and through. It has a pretty considerable loadout option and pretty acceptable range with the help of air to air refueling (AAR). It is also a bird of the night, as this version has been specifically designed with night operations in mind.
These include the integrated TV Camera and the FLIR sensor at the nose, two systems that give you excellent attack and navigation capabilities in adverse situations. They also allow you to opt-out of carrying the LANTIRN pod and replace it for the ECM pod for self defense when the situation merits it, such as when there are multiple SAM installations in the area.
When it comes to mission types it can do plenty: Low-level attacks, Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD), Anti-Ship, Close Air Support (CAS), and many more. Being able to perform multiple of these in one sortie, though possible, is not recommended if there are not any support aircraft to perform AAR.
GAU-25 EQUALIZER 25mm CANNON (POD)
This cannon, even with its limited 300 round drum, has the potential to annihilate every single lightly armored vehicle and even some medium armored ones with ease. The ammunition should last for at least 10 seconds of sustained fire which would give you plenty of chance to get rounds on target, be it an aircraft or a very sneaky APC. This pod is one that I recommend in every loadout as you do not know when you will need it
Your only true air-air missile. This will be your self-defense weapon during most if not all strike missions so you will have to learn to love it and its little quirks. Who knows, you could also learn how to dogfight the big air superiority aircraft and one of these could bag you a kill!
You have access to:
The AIM-9M (All-aspect seeker)
The CAP-9M (Training variant, not for combat operations)
For almost any occasion, these unguided packets of death will serve you well as you can equip 3x Racks for a total of a lot of bombs. The best part is that you have sizes and flavors to chose from. Small diameter, cluster munitions, high and low drag. The Harrier sure treats you well with these: You have access to:
Most of the Mark 80 series: Mk.81, Mk.82 and Mk.83 (Low and High Drag configurations)
Mk.20 Rockeyes (Cluster Munition)
When it comes to precision bombing there are also some options for you. Thanks to both your DMT and the LITENING II pod, self-lased bombing is something you will do very often once you learn the system. Same goes for GPS guided munitions.
You have access to:
GBU-12 and GBU-16 (laser guided munitions)
GBU-38 (GPS guided munitions JDAM)
GBU-54 (Laser seeker-equipped JDAM with GPS functionality as well)
Both the GBU-12 and GBU-38 have the option to be mounted on 3x Racks for a total of at least 6 bombs per sortie, with a theoretical maximum of 12 bombs. That's a lot of bombs, but I would not recommend a full bomb loadout unless you are crazy.
AGM-122 ANTI-RADIATION MISSILE
It might be just a modified AIM-9C but this little missile is more useful than one might initially think. It opens all SEAD missions for you, giving you the capability to directly attack enemy SAM installations from longer distances than you would otherwise. I quickly fell in love with this compact stick of death and I hope you will too.
AGM-65 MAVERICK (LASER AND IR)
Anti-Ship, CAS, Anti-Armor. This missile does them all. Both the IR (AGM-65G) and Laser guided variants (AGM-65E) are included, giving you the possibility to attack targets in any situation at any time. You can self-lase or call one of your buddies to lase for you. It is safe to say that this missile is one of if not the best weapon available for the Harrier just due to its versatility.
When you want to obliterate an area in the most flashy way possible, this is the way to go. Your effectiveness will depend greatly on what pod you equip and the type of warhead that you go with, but be sure that all of them will end up in a satisfying explosion. You have available:
LAU-10 (4 ZUNI rockets)
LAU-68 (x7 2'75 inch rockets with either HE, HEAT or WP warheads)
NEW: LAU-131 APKWS (x7 Laser Guided 2'75 inch rockets)
The LAU-68 pod can be equipped in the internal pylons, giving you a maximum loadout of 28 2'75 inch rockets.
You will inevitably be attacked by either a MANPAD, a SAM installation or another aircraft. This is why you carry a lot of both chaff and flares (120 flares and 60 chaff in a standard loadout). These, alongside the optional ECM pod, will give you a small advantage by making it a little harder for the enemy to lock on you or to evade an incoming missile threat. Additionally, before anything is fired at you, your trusty radar warning receiver should give you an idea of what threats surround you and what are their intentions.
Nothing is better than to know what awaits you in an area of operations long before you get there, a task that the LITENING accomplishes with very little effort. Equipped with both IR and TV imagery, this pod will be your best choice for precision weaponry deployment and recon in all scenarios.
Addendum: The Harrier is now equipped by a Gen-4 LITENING II Targeting Pod whereas before it had a Gen-1. This adds some features that were missing before. As far as I am aware, there are still some features that need to be added. I'll be honest, this is a very welcome change as the new one adds much more functionality, changing the way you operate it dramatically. You get used to it with time and I assure you that you will struggle at first if you come from the Hornet or the Viper modules, but it will become second nature in no time.
EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE
The Harrier has a cockpit layout that is similar to that of the Hornet, in a sense. It is very easy to learn where each panel is, giving even the more inexperienced players a welcoming time.
Even with the systems being this well designed, most newcomers might find it a bit challenging if they skip on a critical part of the module: the tutorials.
RAZBAM did something that I was not expecting when I first bought this module. They assembled easy to follow tutorials that are even separated in smaller, mini-tutorials for those times in which you need a little refreshing on a specific weapon system or sensor. This was the cherry on top for me as these tutorials made my transition from the other modules I have to the Harrier a walk in the park.
These tutorials are all voiced, have good scripting and provide players of any level the help they need to get themselves immersed into this aircraft's systems. There are even some easter eggs at the end of some tutorials which made me giggle. This is something that no other developer has done, as far as my knowledge goes.
With all that being said, I do think this is an aircraft that one should buy if you already have experience with another high-fidelity module.
COMPANION AI ASSETS AND CAMPAIGN
Alongside the Harrier, RAZBAM also launched two other "companion" AI assets to give a better home for the Harrier inside of the DCS ecosystem. These being its two homes, the U.S Navy LHS Tarawa and the HMS Invincible, with the addition of the KC-130, an air refueling version of the C-130 Hercules that is typically operated by the U.S Marine Corp as a support aircraft. These two assets are available to use for any DCS user as these were contributions to the larger DCS database.
The first of these two, the Tarawa-class Amphibious Assault Ship, is the one that gave the Harrier a home at sea. Being able to take off and land from this massive ship is simply fantastic. It has a very detailed 3D model and ATC integration, as expected.
The second AI asset, the KC-130, is one that is useful to every player in DCS even if they don't use the Harrier. It is a slower tanker that fares better with a larger assortment of aircraft when compared to the KC-135 MPRS, which tends to fly comfortably at a faster speed. The refueling position is much more comfortable than the one present on the Stratotanker, being more centered and with more accessible visual cues to help you keep position.
Additionally, a campaign prologue has been added to the Harrier module. Made by Baltic Dragon, it is a very fun introduction to the Harrier as a whole as it showcases several operational scenarios. It has a basic story-line that follows a Harrier Squadron that has been deployed to the Black Sea to do joint exercises with the allied countries in the region. The chemistry between the characters and dialogue of the campaign are very typical of Baltic's mission structure and style, but that's a good thing.
This campaign is one of the best additions that the module has seen so far, so if you