The EA-6B Prowler was retired after 45 years of US Naval service during a three-day Sunset Celebration held 25-27 June 2015 by Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CVWP). The event culminated with the last Navy Prowler flying off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island's (NASWI) Ault Field.
The Grumman (now Northrop Grumman) EA-6B Prowler is a unique national asset that can be deployed from land bases and aircraft carriers to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum and actively deny an adversary the use of radar and communications. The EA-6B is a unique, high-demand low-volume (HDLV) national asset that provides electronic attack for the Navy, Marines, and Air Force. The EA-6B Prowler was designed to complement the Navy's defenses in today's electronic warfare environment. Electronic countermeasures required improvement to compete with the ever-increasing complexity of hostile radar-guided guns, missiles and aircraft. The Prowler was the first aircraft built from the drawing boards to fulfill the role of an electronic warfare aircraft. The EA-6B Prowler is included in every aircraft carrier deployment. The EA-6B's primary mission is to protect fleet surface units and other aircraft by jamming hostile radars and communications. The EA-6B is an integral part of the fleet's first line of defense, and will remain so well into the next century. As a result of restructuring DoD assets in 1995, the EF-111 Raven was retired, and the EA-6B was left as the only radar jammer in DoD. Five new squadrons were stood up. Four of these squadrons are dedicated to supporting USAF Aerospace Expeditionary Force wings.
The crew includes one pilot and three electronic countermeasures officers. The EA-6B carries the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System, which includes a receiver, processor, and various mission-configured jammer pods carried as external stores. The EA-6B has the USQ-113 Communications Jammer, and may also be armed with the highspeed anti-radiation missile (HARM) for enemy surface-to-air radar destruction and suppression. The EA-6B is a key contributor to the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses Electronic Attack mission.
As of March 2001 the Navy and Marine Corps had three configurations of ICAP II EA-6B aircraft, the Block 82, Block 89, and Block 89A. The EA-6B ICAP II Block 89 Aircraft has replaced the EA-6A Aircraft in the Navy Reserve. The Block 89A upgrade program will bring 89 of 123 EA-6B aircraft, including all Block 82 aircraft, into a single avionics configuration for upgrade to the ICAP III. The remaining 34 EA-6B Block 89 aircraft will upgrade directly to ICAP III configuration. EA-6B Block 89A ICAP II aircraft are entering the fleet in FY00 and ICAP III configuration aircraft are scheduled for fleet introduction in FY04.
The EA-6B has proven itself in Vietnam, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Balkans, where strike aircraft losses were dramatically reduced when the Prowler was on station. These conflicts made it evident that the winner of future military conflicts will be the force which most completely controls the electromagnetic spectrum. To achieve this, the EA-6B uses sensitive receivers to detect radar signals in order to determine whether they should be jammed with high powered transmitters or destroyed using High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs).
The EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft - which played a key role in suppressing enemy air defenses during Operation Desert Storm - enhances the strike capabilities not only of carrier air wings but of US Air Force and allied forces as well. The decision to retire the Air Force EF-111A Raven and to assign all Department of Defense radar jamming missions to the Prowler adds to the significance of the EA-6B in joint warfare. With its jamming and High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) capability, the Prowler is a unique national asset that will be deployed from land bases and aircraft carriers. Its ability to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum and actively deny an adversary's use of radar and communications is unmatched by any airborne platform worldwide.
In a strike mission a variety of aircraft are assigned for different roles. The EA-6B aircraft is mainly utilized for Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, or SEAD. It achieves this through the use of jamming equipment and High speed Anti-Radiation Missiles, or HARM. Jamming involves the release of electromagnetic energy that interferes with the enemy's radar detection capability. A great part of an enemy's air defense system that poses a threat to US forces can be neutralized with the EA-6B Prowler. The first part of an enemy's air defense system a strike package encounters is the Early Warning (EW) radars. The air defense system depends on these EW radars to indicate the direction and location of US forces approaching the enemy's territory. With an EA-6B flying with a strike package and producing jamming signals to these EW radars, the enemy's ability to detect us approaching is greatly reduced. This provides precious time for the successful completion of the mission. The Prowler can jam a variety of radars.
Another aspect of an air defense system is its surface-air-missiles, or SAMs. Numerous SAM systems require some sort of electronic tracking by a radar system in order to be effective. When this enemy electronic tracking system is illuminated towards US forces, the EA-6B can fire a HARM missile which guides in on radiated energy. Thus, a hardkill is accomplished by destroying the radar. When the enemy does not turn on their weapon system radar for fear of a HARM missile being fired at them, a softkill is accomplished.
ICAP III, which will be the most significant upgrade on the EA-6B to date, includes a new receiver intended to provide a reactive jamming capability. It includes provisions for Link 16 connectivity, via the Multi-Functional Information Distribution System. ICAP III builds upon the Block 89A improvements to achieve a reactive jamming/targeting and geolocation capability for active emitters. The Navy's procurement plan is to transition all EA-6B aircraft to the ICAP III configuration by 2010. Addition of the Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal and the Improved Data Modem capability improves battlefield situational awareness for the crew. The program is also integrating aircrew night vision devices to enhance night capabilities. The Navy had scheduled IOC for the upgrade for June 2005.
A new era in naval aviation began in 2006 with the first EA-18G Growler aircraft. This next-generation electronic attack aircraft is being developed to replace the fleet's current carrier-based EA-6B Prowler. The next-generation electronic attack aircraft, for the U.S. Navy, combines the combat-proven F/A-18 Super Hornet with a state-of-the-art electronic warfare avionics suite. The EA-18G will replace all carrier-based EA-6B aircraft and will reach IOC in FY 2009. The Navy expects to buy 85 EA-18G Growlers by 2012, when the last carrier-based EA-6B Prowler will be retired. Those 85 EA-18G Growler aircraft will fill 12 fleet squadrons as well as a training.
The Marine Corps will continue to fly the ICAP III EA-6B Prowler as a capability bridge to a MAGTF-oriented, scalable, system-of-systems able to support the needs of the joint force. In development are UAS payloads, ground systems, and joint improvements to the F-35 JSF that will enable a distributed EW capability suitable for MAGTF operations.
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