MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
A 1977 newspaper headline read “‘Can do easy’ Marines get their first EA-6B”— highlighting Marine Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 as the first VMAQ in Marine Aircraft Group 14’s history to have received an EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler’s 40th anniversary of active use in MAG-14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, can only be summed-up in a bitter-sweet acknowledgement and look back on its impact on Marine Corps aviation, Feb. 23.
The Marine Corps’ bond with the Prowler began when it touched down on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., as a replacement for the EA-6A Electric Intruder— the former premiere electronic warfare aircraft during the Vietnam War. Since then, the Prowler has participated in every named American conflict.
“[As] one of the last naval flight officers assigned to VMAQ-2 to fly the EA-6A Electric Intruder before the Prowler transition, I had the opportunity to fly and operate the manually controlled EW and [electronic attack] systems that earned the [electronic and photographic] community their stellar EW reputation over the skies of North Vietnam,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) Rick Johnson, former Prowler pilot with VMAQ-2.
The primary mission of the EA-6B Prowler is suppression of enemy air defenses in support of strike aircraft and ground troops by interrupting enemy electronic activity and obtaining tactical electronic intelligence within the combat area.
“Those EW systems by today’s standards would be considered antiquated and obsolete, but during the Vietnam conflict they were “state of the art,” said Johnson.
Marine Prowlers are equipped with five tactical jamming pods, electronic surveillance systems, radar-seeking High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles, non-kinetic fire systems that leave electronic equipment disabled but intact, and countermeasures that mask the approach of nearby ground-attack aircraft.
“Being a pilot and flying in a legacy aircraft is a testament to the ability of the aircraft,” said Maj. Nathan Baker, the operations officer with MAG-14. “You’re still flying the same aircraft that was flown 40 years ago. No other tactical jet aircraft in the Marine Corps has ever lasted that long.”
A total of 12 Marine Corps Prowlers flew 516 flight hours in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 without sustaining any loses. Fast forward to 2007, the Prowler took part in anti-improvised explosive device operations in Afghanistan by jamming remote detonation devices— saving countless lives. In 2013, VMAQ-1 transitioned to a training squadron to support future Prowler operations such as VMAQ-3 and VMAQ-4’s missions over Iraq in 2014.
“The aircraft being almost 50 years old in terms of design does make it a little more difficult to fly versus some of our newer aircraft such as the [F-35 lighting II],” said Baker.
One VMAQ squadron a year will deactivate until the completion of the Prowler sundown in 2019.
“I’m excited for the transition and for the aircraft to continue its service until its sundown,” said Baker.
The electronic warfare community will be saying goodbye to a legacy aircraft in 2019 when Prowler touches down for the last time. The twin-engine, mid-wing configured, long-range, all-weather aircraft has supported U.S. Marine Corps and coalition forces worldwide since 1977.