The lineage of VQ-1’s “World Watchers” can be traced back to two PBY-5A Catalina “Black Cats” modified for electronic reconnaissance during World War II.
The unit formally established as the Special Electronic Search Project (SESP) at NAS Sangley Point, Republic of the Philippines, in October 1951. By May 13, 1953, when it was redesignated Detachment Able of Airborne Early Warning Squadron One (VW-1), the unit operated four P4M-1Q Mercator aircraft.
When Detachment Able was reorganized into Electronic Countermeasures Squadron One (VQ-1) at Iwakuni, Japan on June 1, 1955, it was the first squadron dedicated to electronic warfare. The A-3 Skywarrior, or “Whale” as it came to be known, served the squadron for the next three decades. In 1960, not only was VQ-1 moved to Atsugi, Japan and redesignated Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One, but the last Mercator was retired and replaced by the first of many WV-2Q Super Constellations. The “Willie Victor” would remain the backbone of VQ-1’s long range, land-based reconnaissance efforts through the Vietnam Era and into the 1970’s.
The squadron’s involvement in the Vietnam War started characteristically, at the very beginning when a Skywarrior crew was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for their role in the Gulf of Tonkin incident of August 2-5, 1964. For the next nine years, VQ-1 would operate from Da Nang, Cubi Point, Bangkok, aircraft carriers on patrol in Yankee Station and other bases in Southeast Asia. VQ-1’s aircrews supported countless air strikes and are credited with assisting in the destruction of numerous MiG aricraft and Komar patrol boats. The first EP-3 Aries I joined the squadron in 1969, beginning the replacement program for the Super Constellations, which was competed in 1974. In 1971, the VQ-1 moved its homeport to NAS Agana, Guam.
At that time it absorbed Heavy Photographic Squadron Sixty One (VAP-61) and its former parent unit, Airborne Early Warning Squadron One (VW-1). VW-1 was disestablished on July 1, 1971. For a time VQ-1 consisted of thirty aircraft: sixteen Skywarriors, twelve Super Constellations (“Super Connie’s”) and two Orions.
After the departure of the last Skywarrior in the late 1980’s, the squadron flew the EP-3 Aries I exclusively. In 1991 the squadron closed its permanent detachment in Atsugi, Japan after 30 years and moved it to Misawa, Japan. In the same year, VQ-1 received the first EP-3E Aries II, an upgraded version of the Aries I using modified P-3C airframes. The squadron played a key role in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Despite the harsh, difficult maintenance environment and 30 year old aircraft, VQ-1 amassed nearly 1400 combat flight hours with a 100% mission completion rate. Tasking included strike support, combat search and rescue, communications and over-the-horizon-targeting support to coalition forces.
In 1994, as a result of the base closure of NAS Agana, VQ-1 was notified of the homeport change to NAS Whidbey Island. Coincidentally, in July 1994, VQ-1 retired the Navy’s oldest operational P-3, EP-3E Aries I BUNO 148887. Its retirement also marked VQ-1’s transition to all EP-3E AIRIES II mission aircraft.
Source: Captain Don East, USN, (retired)