The EA-6A was originallly designated the A2F-1Q. The electronic warfare EA-6A version was developed for the Marines; 28 were converted from A-6As. In combat, they operated from both shore bases and carriers. A fuselage extension forward of the cockpit and an upper fin antenna fairing housed the "electric Intruder's" countermeasures systems. Fuselage speed brakes were retained to allow wing tip antennas. This aircraft retained a portion of the A-6A's attack capability but gave up much of its bombing and navi-gation equipment to make space for antennas to convert the attack plane into an effective electronic warfare aircraft.
The first EA-6B was received by the Navy at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington in January 1971 and deployed to Vietnam in 1972. This "standard version" of the aircraft was replaced in 1973 with the "expanded capability" (EXCAP) EA-6B which augmented the frequency coverage of the ECM system. In 1976 the "improved capability" (ICAP) version entered service. The ICAP II EA-6B was the follow-on and a more sophisticated version. Its first deployment was in 1985. It featured updated operator displays, an inertial navigation system, expanded frequency coverage and a "tactical EA-6B mission support" (TEAMS) system which allows sophisticated pre-flight planning and programming.
Following the transition from the EA-6A aircraft to the EA-6B, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2) continued to provide detachments to Carrier Air Wing Five on board the USS Midway. In 1980 VMAQ-2 completed its assignment aboard the Midway and began shore-based rotations with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Iwakuni, Japan. Detachments were subsequently sent back to sea duty aboard the USS Saratoga and USS America. Marine Prowlers supported joint operations against Libya in 1986 from the carrier.
The EA-6B has a significantly higher design gross weight than the A-6E; however, the EA-6B employs the same wing to carry the increased load. This increased wing load contributed to an alarming number of EA-6B accidents in the early 1980's. During that period the EA-6B aircraft experienced accident rates in fleet operations that were nearly three times higher than all other Navy and Marine aircraft combined. The majority of these mishaps were attributed to out-of-control flight and resulted in the loss of the aircraft after the pilots were unable to recover the aircraft and were forced to eject. These losses prompted many fleet squadrons to restrict the EA-6B from intentional maneuvers at high-angle-of-attack conditions. While the restrictions substantially reduced the accident rates, they also imposed constraints on evasive maneuvers while operating in high threat environments.
In late 1984, the Navy approached NASA Langley to undertake a research program to improve the EA-6B, with emphasis on increasing maximum usable lift, maintaining lateral-directional stability near stall, and maintaining lateral control near stall. Langley agreed to lead this effort, under the cognizance of the Navy. Grumman joined the effort and provided additional technical support to Langley. The Navy requested support from NASA Langley to define modifications that might improve maneuver aerodynamics, high-angle-of-attack stability and control, and low-speed high-lift systems. During follow-on Navy flight tests, these modifications to the wing airfoil, vertical tail, wing leading and trailing edges, and roll control devices significantly enhanced the capabilities of an EA-6B demonstrator aircraft.
Tests showed that the vertical tail was adversely affected by flow emanating from the fuselage and wing root areas for high-angle-of-attack conditions, which resulted in a severe loss of directional stability. The problem was resolved by extending the vertical tail above the existing fin pod, adding leading-edge droop to the inboard wing, and adding a strake to the wing-fuselage inter-section. Roll control at high-angle-of-attack conditions was augmented by using the existing wingtip speed brakes as additional ailerons.
Test data indicated the potential for a 25-percent increase in maximum usable lift in the cruise configuration. Lateral and directional stability could be maintained to angles of attack well beyond stall. Lateral control could be maintained beyond stall by using the speed brakes as ailerons. A performance improvement due to decreased drag could be realized at medium and high altitudes where a majority of the EA-6B missions are flown. Approach speeds could be substantially reduced at existing landing gross weights, and growth capability was provided for higher gross weights.
During Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield VMAQ-2 had one detachment (six aircraft) deployed in Japan and the remainder of the squadron (12 aircraft) deployed to the Persian Gulf. The Reserve squadron, VMAQ-4 (six aircraft), transitioned from the EA-6A to the EA-6B and subsequently relieved the detachment in Japan. During Desert Shield the squadron flew 936 sorties for over 2100 hours. Marine Prowlers flew 495 combat missions totaling 1622 hours, supporting the full spectrum of joint and combined missions.
Effective Oct. 1, 1992, the Marine Prowler community reorganized its structure. VMAQS are now structured into four active force squadrons (VMAQ-1, 2, 3, 4). Each squadron now has at least five aircraft. This restructuring provides the flexibility necessary for continuing to support peacetime requirements, as well as the capacity to concurrently assign Marine EA-6B forces to commanders in different areas of operation. One squadron was assigned to Carrier Airwing One on USS America (CV 66) in FY95, while the others continue to support the Unit Deployment Program and CINC contingency requirements.
In the wake of DOD budgetary decisions to retire the F-4G Wild Weasel and phase out the EF-111 Raven, there was increased reliance by the Joint Force Commander (JFC) on the EA-6B Prowler for the joint suppression of enemy air defenses (J-SEAD) role. In 1995, Program Budget Decisions 752 and 753 detailed the commissioning of 5 EA-6B squadrons to replace the USAF EF-111A Raven in fulfilling the Joint Electronic Attack role. It is understood that SEAD is much more than jamming and anti- radiation missiles. All services bring complementary capabilities to the overall J-SEAD effort, and all services reap the benefits of the resulting air superiority. By integrating Air Force pilots and electronic countermeasure officers who were once being employed in such aircraft as the F-4G and EF-111 into the Navy's EA-6B Prowler, the Navy and Air Force have an effective enemy air suppression team capable of protecting coalition assets in any contingency.
A star performer during the Kosovo operations was the EA-6B, which escorted virtually every strike group while performing jamming and employing HARM against hostile radars. In support of the suppression of enemy air defense mission, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division [NAWCWD] China Lake's EA-6B WSSA, ARM IPT, and TACAIR EW IPT responded to more than 100 Fleet requests for ALQ-99 (the radar jammer used on the EA-6B aircraft) and HARM data. Responded to fleet requests. The NAWCWD EA-6B EWDS Team responded to fleet requests for ALQ-99 and HARM data in support of Operations Allied Force (78 requests) and Northern Watch (18 requests). EWDS also released the FY-99 third quarter products to the EA-6B Fleet and joint Navy, Marine, and Air Force community on 25 May 1999. The EWDS fleet products included: EA-6B Mission Data Tapes, tactics guides, a database browser, archived data base reports, software trouble report database browser, emitter parameter library browser, and other products. EWDS defined and refined processes, development tools, requirements, and design for the next generation of the EA-6B Tactical Information and Report Management System (ETIRMS NG) software suite. EWDS continued development with programmers to provide a Rapid Reprogramming capability. This capability allowed EWDS to rapidly reprogram the EA-6B planner with the latest threat data over SIPRNET channels.
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