The EA-6B Prowler provides an umbrella of protection over strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications. The primary mission of the aircraft is to support strike aircraft and ground troops by interrupting enemy electronic activity and obtaining tactical electronic intelligence within a combat area. It is used by both the Navy and the Marine Corps.
The EA-6B Prowler was designed to complement the Navy's defenses in today's electronic warfare environment. The Prowler was the first aircraft built from the drawing boards to fulfill the role of an electronic warfare aircraft.
The EA-6B, built by Grumman Aircraft Corporation, first became operational in 1971 with numerous upgrades in the years that followed. 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.
For the Marine Corps, 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.
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.
There are currently nineteen Prowler squadrons in the military: four in the Marines and fifteen in the Navy. There are four "Expeditionary" squadrons manned by both Navy and Air Force personnel which deploy to overseas bases as a replacement for the EF-111. The Marine squadrons are stationed at Cherry Point, NC. The Navy has fourteen squadrons based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, and one permanently deployed in Atsugi, Japan.
The EA-6B Prowler's primary mission is to protect fleet surface units and strike aircraft by jamming enemy radars and communications. The Prowler has the ability to passively detect enemy radars without making its own presence known. The Prowler can carry up to five tactical jamming pods which allow it to effectively degrade enemy radars. The Prowler also carries a High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), which provides the capability to destroy enemy radars.
A crew of four, consisting of a pilot and three Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMO), perform the necessary skills to operate this sophisticated aircraft. The pilot and ECMO in the front cockpit are responsible for flying the aircraft, radio communication, navigation, operating the air-to-ground radar, and firing the HARM. The two ECMOs seated in the aft cockpit are responsible for operating the tactical jamming system and electronic surveillance.