Prowler Association

EA-6B Prowler History

A Short History of the Grumman EA-6B Prowler

The Grumman EA-6B Prowler is, simply, the most important single Electronic Warfare (EW) aircraft ever built or operated. The remarkable Prowler was the naval service's primary EW platform over five decades and, as of its 2015 retirement, had been in carrier duty longer than any other jet, from any other community, in history.

Sired from Grumman's A-6 Intruder medium attack aircraft, the EA-6B first deployed in 1972, directly into combat and was still in service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps over forty years later.

From 1971 through 2015 the center of the Prowler's world was NAS Whidbey Island, WA with 15 Regular Navy and a pair of Reserve squadrons being formed for duty throughout the world. The Vikings of VAQ-129 acted as the Fleet Readiness Squadron (FRS, or better known as the "RAG") from 1971 through 2014, training combat-ready aircrew and maintainers for both Navy and Marine squadrons.

170 EA-6Bs were built by Grumman at its Long Island, NY plant between 1970 and 1991. The hallmark of the type has been the series of upgrades the aircraft has gone through to keep it abreast, or ahead, of the threat.

The aircraft's criticality to strike operations led to it being designated as "Low Density/High Demand" (LD/HD) after Operation Desert Storm as there never seemed to enough to meet the demand of the deployed forces. In 1995 Navy Prowlers began to carry out Expeditionary, land-based deployments where they replaced EF-111A Ravens being retired by the Air Force. By 1997 the Navy had four VAQ squadrons specifically trained for this Joint Force role, making deployments to Europe and Asia.

The Navy started replacing its EA-6Bs with Boeing EA-18Gs in 2008. VAQ-129 ceased Prowler training in 2014 and the last Navy squadron, VAQ-134, transitioned to Growlers in 2015.

The Marines and the EA-6B

The Marines started replacing their EA-6A "Electric Intruders" in 1977 with VMAQ-2 receiving new ICAP aircraft as their first Prowlers. The Playboys' first deployment as part of the Corps' standing Unit Deployment Plan (UDP) occurred in September 1978 when detachment Alpha arrived at MCAS Iwakuni Japan. They also immediately assumed the duty of providing the USS Midway (CV-41) and Carrier Air Wing-5 (CVW-5) with Prowler coverage, a role they held until 1980 when relieved by VAQ-136, which became the Navy's only "forward deployed" Prowler squadron. Between 1981 and 1986 VMAQ-2 provided detachments for carrier deployments to the Mediterranean Sea withSaratoga (CV-60), Nimitz (CVN-68) and America (CV-66).

In 1991 VMAQ-2 flew twelve EA-6Bs during Operation Desert Storm, operating out of Sheikh Isa Airbase in Bahrain. At the same time Whidbey-based Marine Reserve unit VMAQ-4 converted from EA-6As to EA-6Bs and deployed to Iwakuni for six months as part of the UDP.

In 1993 the Corps decided to break VMAQ-2's detachments into three separate five aircraft squadrons with VMAQ-1 and -3 joining the original unit at Cherry Point. The Whidbey reserve outfit, VMAQ-4, became a Regular Marine organization at the same time and moved to Cherry Point to give the service a quartet of Prowler squadrons in North Carolina.

From this point on the four Marine Prowler squadrons made repeated deployments to exotic locations throughout the world and been involved in combat operations in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

In May 2010 the Marines accepted their first ICAP III aircraft, which quickly replaced their ICAP II Block 89A models.

VMAQ-1 was redesignated as VMAQT-1 in 2013, taking over the EA-6B training duties from VAQ-129. The Marines started deactivating its Prowler force from 2016, the Corps' EW mission being taken over by the "MAGTF EW" concept, which involves drones, EW pods and Radio Battalions.

VMAQT-1 went first with VMAQ-4 going in 2017. VMAQ-3 followed in 2018 and VMAQ-2 retiring the type as well as the Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare community on a somber 8 March, 2019 at Cherry Point.

Versions

Standard (introduced 1971): Also referred to as "Basic" the Standard arrived at VAQ-129 in February 1971 and, in 1972, went directly into combat with VAQ-132 in Vietnam when the Scorpions made the first Prowler deployment in USS America (CVA-66) as a member of CVW-8. The Lancers of VAQ-131 quickly followed to the war zone aboard the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65).

Standard covered only four frequency bands, 1, 2, 4 and 7 and was produced in small numbers until replaced on the production line by EXCAP. The cockpit was configured with the pilot (Naval Aviator) in the front left seat and the other three being numbered Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMO) 1 to 3 from right front, right rear and left rear. The ALQ-99 EW system was run from the right side, ECMO-1 and ECMO-2. ECMO-3 controlled the ALQ-92 communications jammer.

The last Standard squadron to deploy was VAQ-136, which cruised in USS Independence (CV-62) in 1977. Surviving Standards were upgraded to ICAP configuration.

EXCAP (1972): "Expanded Capability": First deployed by VAQ-133 in 1973, the EXCAP basically doubled the frequency range of the Standard by adding bands 5/6, 8 and 9. The EXCAP made its final deployment with VAQ-133 in 1985.

ICAP (1975): "Improved Capability ": ICAP kept the same frequency range of the EXCAP but featured a completely redesigned cockpit with all ALQ-99 controls being in the aft seats and ECMO-1 (right front) controlling the radar, communications and ALQ-92 communications jammer, when it was installed. ICAP was first deployed by VAQ-135 in 1977 and retired by VAQ-134 in 1988. It was also the first version to be used by the Marines and was frequently called "ICAP I" following the 1985 introduction of the ICAP II.

ICAP II (1985): "Improved Capability II ": ICAP II further improved the breed by introducing advanced displays for the back seaters and the Universal Exciter, which allowed the ALQ-99 pods to carry transmitters in two different frequency bands. In 1986 the AGM-88 HARM missile debuted on the Prowler, giving the aircraft its first "hard kill" weapon. ICAP II would go through three successive improvements over the years, each named for the fiscal year it was ordered; Block 86, which gave it improved signal processing, The original ICAP II was retroactively described as Block 82 at the same time. Block 89 involved safety of flight systems and Block 89A dealt primarily with communications upgrades. Other improvements over time included frequency expansion to Bands 3 and 10 as well as use of ASQ-191 or USQ-113 communications jammers. VAQ-137 made the first ICAP II deployment, in 1985. The last Block 89A ICAP IIs were retired by VAQ-134 in 2015.

ADVCAP: (1989) "Advanced Capability": In what was supposed to be the version that followed ICAP II, ADVCAP featured an entirely new receiver system (the Receiver Processing Group, or RPG), more powerful engines (J52-P-409) and airframe maneuvering enhancements. Three aircraft were modified to participate in the test program prior to cancellation in 1991.

ICAP III: (2004): "Improved Capability III" ICAP III represented a substantial upgrade to the Prowler's passive receiver system as the ALQ-99 receiver was replaced by the new Northrop-Grumman ALQ-218, which maintained the EA-6B's reputation as the most advanced tactical electronic warfare platform in the world. VAQ-139 introduced the ICAP III to the fleet in 2005 and was subsequently operated in the Navy by VAQ-137, 140 and 142 and the Marines from 2010. They were the last Prowlers to operate, being retired by the Marines in the spring of 2019. The final EA-6B flight was from Cherry Point to Dulles Airport in Virginia on 14 March 2019, with VMAQ-2's BuNo 162230 being inducted and placed on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

OPERATIONAL SQUADRONS all Navy squadrons based at NAS Whidbey Island unless noted

VAQ-128 Fightin' Phoenix 1997-2004
VAQ-129 Vikings 1971-2014 Fleet Readiness Squadron (FRS)
VAQ-130 Zappers 1968-2011
VAQ-131 Lancers 1968-2014
VAQ-132 Scorpionsv 1971-2009
VAQ-133 Wizards 1972-1992
VAQ-133 (2d) Wizards 1996-2014
VAQ-134 Garudas 1973-2015
VAQ-135 Black Ravens 1973-2013
VAQ-136 Gauntlets 1973-2013 Atsugi Japan 1980-2013
VAQ-137 Rooks 1973-1994
VAQ-137 (2d) Rooks 1996-2013
VAQ-138 Yellowjackets 1976-2010
VAQ-139 Cougars 1983-2012
VAQ-140 Patriots 1985-2014
VAQ-141 Shadowhawks 1987-2010
VAQ-142 Grim Watchdogs 1988-1991
VAQ-142 (2d) Grey Wolves 1997-2014
VAQ-35 Gray Wolves 1991-1993 FEWSG
VAQ-209 Star Warriors 1977-2014 Naval Reserve, NAF Washington
VAQ-309 Axemen 1979-1994 Naval Reserve

Notes:

  • The designation VAQ was changed from Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron to Electronic Attack Squadron in 1998.
  • VAQ-129 through -135 transitioned from EKA-3B/KA-3B Skywarriors.
  • VAQ-136 through 142, VAQ-35, and the second VAQ-133, 137 and 142 were established specifically as EA-6B squadrons.
  • VAQ-128, 309, 35 were all disestablished; as were the first VAQ-133, 137 and 142.
  • VAQ-209, 309 transitioned from EA-6A Intruders.
  • VAQ-129, 130, 131, 132, 134, 135, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141, 209 and the second 133, 137 and 142 transitioned to EA-18G Growlers.
  • Land-based VAQ-35 operated under the Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group (FEWSG).
  • An additional squadron, VAQ-143 was planned to be established in 2002 however it was canceled prior to official formation.

Marines; MAG-14, MCAS Cherry Point, NC

VMAQ-1/VMAQT-1 Screamin' Banshees 1992-scheduled deactivation 2016
VMAQ-2 Playboys/Panthers/Death Jesters 1975-
VMAQ-3 Moon Dogs 1992-
VMAQ-4 Seahawks 1990-

Note:

  • Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ).
  • VMAQ-4 was under the Marine Reserves at Whidbey Islandthrough July 1992 when they were permanently activated to regular duty and moved to Cherry Point.
  • The Marines currently plan to deactivate their EA-6B squadrons from 2016 through 2019.

Significant Combat Operations Involving the EA-6B

Vietnam War 1972-1973 Linebacker II VAQ-131, 132
Grenada 1983 Operation Urgent Fury VAQ-131
Lebanon 1983 strikes VAQ-131, 137
Libya 1986 OperationPrairie Fire VAQ-135, 137
Libya 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon VAQ-135, VMAQ-2
Iran 1988 Operation Praying Mantis VAQ-135
Iraq 1991 Operation Desert Storm VAQ-130, 131, 132, 136, 137, 141, VMAQ-2
Iraq 1991-92 Operation Provide Comfort VAQ-133, 141
Iraq 1992-2003 Operations Northern and Southern Watch All deployed squadrons
Iraq 1998 Operation Desert Fox VAQ-130, 135
Bosnia 1995 Operation Deny Flight VAQ-130, 141
Serbia 1995 Operation Deliberate Force VAQ-130, 141, 209, VMAQ-3
Iraq 1998 Operation Desert Fox VAQ-130, 135, 142
Serbia 1999 Operation Allied Force VAQ-134, 138, 140, 141, 209, VMAQ-1, 2, 4
Afghanistan 2001-2013 Operation Enduring Freedom all deployed squadrons
Iraq 2003-2012 Operation Iraqi Freedom all deployed squadrons
Iraq/Syria 2014 Operation Inherent Resolve VAQ-134, VMAQ-2, 3, 4