The EB-66Bs and EB-66Es came into being in the spring of 1966, when the prefix E was assigned to all versions of the B/RB-66s intended for electronic warfare. However, neither of the 2 models were new. The Air Force contingent of EB-66Bs comprised both modernized and re-equipped B-66Bs and RB-66Bs, with no distinction made between the 2 types. In both cases, original electronic countermeasures gear (electronic devices and chaff dispensers) had been upgraded, and sophisticated pieces of equipment added. Similarly, EB-66Es, the first of which did not reach Southeast Asia before August 1967, could be converted B-66Bs or RB-66Bs. is The EB-66E did, however, represent an improvement over the EB-66B. Although, the "E" carried fewer jamming devices, its new tuneable transmitters enabled the electronic warfare operator to change frequencies during flight in order to jam several kinds of radar.
First committed to the war in April 1965, long before the Department of Defense decided to postpone the entire program's phaseout, the RB-66Bs quickly demonstrated the limitations of their equipment which, in view of existing retirement plans, had never been modernized. There was an exception, however. Three of the early RB-66Bs, deployed to Southeast Asia, had been equipped with infrared sensors, an important asset to meet growing night reconnaissance requirements. Nevertheless, the 3 planes were old and were replaced in 1966 by modern infrared-equipped RF-4Cs. Meanwhile, a great many RB-66Bs were being modified to update nearly obsolete electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment. Improved support also was being worked out, in order to raise the aircraft's safety and efficiency. In 1966, most active RB-66Bs became EB-66s, but this did not spell the end of the aircraft modernization.
In mid-1966, the Air Staff directed that 26 RB-66Bs be fitted with passive and active ECM systems. The first of the 26 modified aircraft (EB-66Bs) reached the war theater on 30 August 1967, but did not perform as well as expected, forcing PACAF to defer plans to make similar improvements to another 13 EB-66Bs. When money became available, 6 additional RB-66Bs, withdrawn from storage, were brought to an upgraded EB-66E configuration. At the same time, the problems of the first 26 EB-66Es were corrected. In 1968, confronted by increasingly sophisticated enemy defenses, the Air Force began using all EB-66s in the jamming role. This pinpointed the need for further improvements, such as steerable antennas and modification of the aircraft's new communication jammer. The wisdom of spending extra money on such an aged aircraft was debatable. TAC's new Commander, Gen. William M. Momyer, arriving from Southeast Asia in mid-1968, also had strong reservations about the modernized EB-66's effectiveness as a standoff jammer. Because no sound alternative could then be worked out, General Momyer concurred in the extended modernization of the EB-66s, even though the entire project was fraught with difficulties since no single electronic-countermeasures configuration would meet the specific goals of all contingencies.Continued EB-66 improvement reinforced TAC's argument that the aircraft's engines had to be replaced, a change sought by the command since 1966. TAC's belief, fully shared by PACAF and TJSAFE, was not unfounded. The J71-A-13 engine was limited in power and had become extremely expensive to operate because of the short time between overhauls. Air Staff support notwithstanding, the Department of Defense had disapproved TAC's first request on the ground that the limited number of EB-66s remaining in the inventory did not warrant the purchase of better engines. Although TAC subsequently underlined that additional electronic systems could not be fitted in the EB-66s because the J71s and the associated generator banks could not supply enough electrical power, the Department of Defense did not alter its decision.
In May 1969, Gen. John P. McConnell, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, stopped the EB-66 modernization. Three of the primary factors accounting for the decision were cost, time involved, and Defense Department's denial of a new engine. The Air Staff made it known that remaining EB-66s would have to be maintained through normal processes for perhaps 5 more years.
Fatigue cracks in the compressor of the J71 engine became a problem of major importance. Since flight safety was at stake, most of the available funds went for engine repair, and little was left to invest in airframes and electronics. In these circumstances, maintenance of the EB-66s proved increasingly difficult. Reduction of the EB-66 inventory in late 1969 brought relief by allowing a realignment of the modification programs to match available funds. Nonetheless, critically needed alterations often could not be done.
By mid-1973, the EB-66 had truly become an old, underpowered aircraft that had been extended repeatedly beyond its programmed life span. Because of the small fleet's approaching phaseout, no IRAN program supported the aircraft, and a contract team performed substitute inspections of the EB-66s. TAC had planned all along to get rid of its EB-66s as soon as the aircraft's Southeast Asian commitments were over. Yet, no other electronic countermeasures aircraft was available. In mid-1972, the Air Staff had recommended that the EB-66s be replaced by ECM-equipped F-111s, a solution actively pursued by TAC. But the Department of Defense had yet to reach a decision in mid-1973, and TAC had to retain a minimum number of EB-66s, as did PACAF and USAFE.
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