Electronic Attack Squadron [VAQ-130]
The "ZAPPERS" of VAQ 130 are the oldest Electronic Warfare Squadron in the United States Navy. VAQ 130 adopted the nickname "ZAPPERS" and the Zapper Dragon insignia when the squadron was originally commissioned as Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron THIRTEEN (VAW 13) flying AD-5Q's in 1959. On 1 October 1968, the command was redesignated VAQ-130 and placed under the operational control of Tactical Electronic Warfare Wing THIRTEEN (VAQW 13). After commissioning the squadron supplied support detachments aboard all Pacific and Atlantic aircraft carriers. These detachments, flying the EAK-3B Skywarrior aircraft, provided sea and shore based forces with electronic counter-measures (ECM) and air to air refueling capabilities.
In the fall of 1970, VAQ-130 became the EKA-3 readiness squadron, or Replacement Air Group (RAG). Stationed at NAS Alameda, California, VAQ-130 assumed responsibility for training maintenance personnel, fleet replacement pilots, and electronic warfare evaluators/navigators for all EA-3 squadrons in the US Navy.
In March 1975, VAQ 130 was restationed at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington and transitioned to the EA-6B "Prowler" aircraft. In June of the same year, VAQ 130 joined Carrier Air Wing EIGHT aboard the USS NIMITZ (CVN-68) for a three and one half month cruise to the Caribbean and North Atlantic where the Zappers were part of Nuclear Task Group SEVENTY-FIVE, formed to show our NATO allies the capability of the nuclear Navy. Because of the limited number of EA-6B squadrons in the Navy, the Zappers, unlike most naval aviation squadrons, have been assigned to numerous carrier air wings and deployed on several different carriers including the NIMITZ, FORRESTAL, INDEPENDENCE, and KITTY HAWK.
In 1977, VAQ-130 transitioned to the third generation Improved Capability (ICAP) version of the EA-6B with greater sophistication in electronic warfare capability. In 1978, the squadron received the Naval Operations Safety Award after six years of mishap free flying.
In 1986, the Zappers completed transition to the fourth generation Improved Capability Two (ICAP II) version of the aircraft which incorporated the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System. The ICAP II integrates the High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), providing the Zappers with a new offensive capability. The squadron deployed with the newest version of the aircraft on the around the world cruise as part of Carrier Air Wing NINE aboard the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63), in July 1987. In August 1987, VAQ-130 joined Carrier Air Wing THREE aboard the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV-67) and deployed on their first Mediterranean cruise from August 1988 to February 1989. In 1988 the Zappers again won the Naval Operations Safety Award.
In January 1990 the Zappers deployed for seven weeks to the Caribbean Sea for the WestLant '90, anti-drug mini cruise. Later in August 1990, the squadron transitioned to the fifth generation ICAP II Block 86 EA-6B version, and accepted one more aircraft to become a five plane squadron. The squadron then immediately deployed on board the USS JOHN F. KENNEDY to the Red Sea, in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, where it became the first Prowler squadron to fire a HARM in combat. Subsequently VAQ-130 was awarded the CNO Safety "S" and the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" awards for 1990.
The Zappers deployed again to the Mediterranean in October 1992 in support of Operation PROVIDE PROMISE and the humanitarian relief operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In October 1994, the Zappers deployed with Carrier Air Wing THREE aboard the USS EISENHOWER (CVN-69). After a brief period in the Arabian Sea in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, the Zappers participated in Operation DENY FLIGHT. During the deployment the Zappers conducted three shore detachments to Aviano AB, Italy, to provide continuous electronic warfare support to NATO and United Nations aircraft involved with Operation DENY FLIGHT. The squadron currently flies the most recent version of the Prowler, the ICAP II Block 89. In June of 1993, the Zappers became the first combat unit in the Navy to have women assigned.
In August 1995, the Zappers rapidly departed an exercise to return to Operation DENY FLIGHT with two aircraft to assist the VAQ-141 Shadowhawks. When Operation DENY FLIGHT took on an entirely different focus August 30, the Zappers were flying around the clock as part of the SEAD campaign. Due to the intensity of the air strikes, the largest in NATO's 45-year history, the remaining Zapper aircraft arrived in Aviano on September 1, 1995, with the entire squadron in place there a short two weeks later. After continuing to meet the crucial demands of Operations DELIBERATE FORCE and DENY FLIGHT for over a month, the Zappers returned to NAS Whidbey Island in early October 1995.
The Zappers deployed again with Carrier Air Wing THREE to the Mediterranean in November 1996, this time onboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN-71). After routine operations in the Western Med, CVW-3 provided support to Operation DELIBERATE GUARD in the Adriatic Sea. They then transited the Suez Canal and provided support to Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. In 1996, VAQ-130 won the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" award.
After returning from deployment in May 1997 CVW-3 transitioned to the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65). In January 1998 VAQ-130 was officially redesignated as Electronic Attack Squadron ONE THREE ZERO (VAQ-130). The Zappers were awarded the 1998 Prowler Squadron of the Year for Tactical Excellence Award, winning that award for the second year in a row. They were also awarded the Association of Old Crows Outstanding Unit Award for 1998. In November 1998, the Zappers deployed aboard ENTERPRISE for a six-month cruise to the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf.
The first portion of the 1998 cruise saw ENTERPRISE rapidly deploy to the Arabian Gulf for renewed support in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Subsequent refusal of UN arms inspections in Iraq inevitably led to Operation DESERT FOX, in which the Zappers were proud to support the largest all-Navy strikes in history by flying over forty-five combat hours on eighteen strike missions. Throughout the four days in DESERT FOX, the Zappers launched eighteen HARM missiles to ensure 345.63 tons of ordnance was delivered with a 100% survival rate of striker aircraft. After leaving the Gulf, the ENTERPRISE transited the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and was twice called into the Adriatic in support of Operation DELIBERATE FORGE. The final portion of cruise saw the ENTERPRISE return to the Arabian Gulf. Here, the carrier spent a little over a month in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, after which she sailed through the Suez for the final time for the 98-99 cruise to return home to Norfolk, VA. The Zappers departed ENTERPRISE when she pulled into Mayport, FL, and returned home to Whidby Island on May 3, 1999.
On 14 December 2000 VAQ-130 aircrews flew the first low level over Italy since the incident in which a gondola cable was cut, killing 20 people in Northern Italy. That incident, involving a Marine EA-6B based out of Aviano Air Base, took place on Feb. 3, 1998. It severely strained U.S./Italian relations and ended low level military training flights for U.S personnel. The Zappers had an opportunity to redeem the reputation of the entire Prowler community. VAQ-130, deployed on the USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75), sent two jets to fly the Sicily Two Military Training Route.
The crews consisted of Lt Cdr Chris Taylor, Lt Craig Remaly, LTjg Kevin Volpe, and LTjg Katrina Hickman in the lead jet and Lt Cdr Tim Reynolds, Lt Cdr Mike Gard, Lt Bret Shockney, and Lt Chris Lucas in the wing jet. The crews completely understood the implications of their mission and felt absolutely no additional pressure when instructed by Commanding Officer Cdr Frank McCulloch to, "Not cause an international incident," further adding, "If I go down, you're all going down with me."
It was a perfectly beautiful day for the historic flight, not a cloud in the sky. After a slight delay (a little language difficulty with the Italian air traffic controllers) the planes were headed south toward the Sicilian coast, descending down to 1000 feet. As we crossed the coastline, there was a great view of the city of Palermo to the east, with mountains rising sharply from the beaches to the west. The interior or the island was covered with rolling green fields, dotted with terra cota villages. The villages were very medieval in appearance; lots of buildings grouped very closely together occupying only the highest peaks in defense against an ancient enemy.
For the second time in less than three years, VAQ-130 Zapper Prowler aircraft and aircrew participated in strikes on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. And just as they did during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, Zappers jammed and utilized the AGM-88 HARM missile against Iraqi Air Defense systems. A night strike was launched 16 February 2001, led by US Navy aircraft from the deck of aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, and included Coalition Forces aircraft from land bases in the region. The strike retaliated against Saddam Hussein and the growing threat to aircraft operating in the Southern No-Fly Zone by striking key Iraqi Air Defense Systems in the Baghdad area. Zapper aircrew were integral members of this unprecedented effort, leading all SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) aircraft in the planning and execution of this mission. As is often the case with combat operations over Iraq, one of the first aircraft to cross into hostile airspace was a Zapper EA-6B accompanied by his trusty fighter escort. A highlight of the mission occurred when a VAQ-130 Zapper Prowler came to the rescue and launched an AGM-88 HARM missile at an enemy battery to protect another aircraft in danger.
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