The last Navy deployment was on George H.W. Bush in November 2014, with VAQ-134. The last Navy operational flight took place on 27 May 2015. Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CVWP), hosted a retirement commemoration for the EA-6B from 25 to 27 June 2015 at NAS Whidbey Island.
The Grumman EA-6B Prowler—one of the world’s most effective electronic warfare aircraft—has passed into history after valuable service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Considered an “ugly” aircraft, even by some of the men and women who flew it, the Prowler was in the forefront of combat and crises for almost 50 years.
The EA-6B was a logical development of the Grumman A2F/A-6 Intruder, a carrier-based, all-weather attack aircraft that entered service in 1963. The Intruder could carry some 18,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, more than twice the bomb tonnage carried by a four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress in World War II.
In the mid-1960s, the Marine Corps acquired 28 electronic countermeasures (ECM) variants designated EA-6A Intruder.1 This aircraft, replacing the F3D Skyknight, was a two-seat plane laden with electronic gear.
The definitive ECM variant was the four-seat EA-6B Intruder, renamed the more appropriate “Prowler” in February 1972. The Navy and Marine Corps acquired 170 of these outstanding aircraft from the Grumman production line, which ended in 1971. A few earlier planes were converted to that configuration.
In time, the Prowler—manned by the Sea Services—also took over the electronic warfare roles of the Air Force EF-111 Raven. That was the electronics version of the General Dynamics TFX/F-111 “swing-wing” aircraft.
The EA-6B’s internal avionics/ECM equipment totaled about 8,000 pounds; in addition, 950 pounds could be carried on each of five pylons. Normally five ALQ-99 ECM pods were carried, each with two jamming transmitters, although a 300-gallon drop tank could be substituted for each pod. Chaff and flare dispensers also were fitted. Beginning in 1986, the aircraft were configured to carry the AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM), their first “hard kill” armament.
During its long career, the EA-6B underwent numerous ECM system upgrades.
The EA-6B easily could be distinguished from the A-6 Intruder by its longer length, four-place cockpit, and ECM pod atop the tail fin. Like the Intruders, the Prowlers had a fixed, “bent” refueling boom forward of the cockpit, folding wings, and fittings for carrier operation. The ECM officer seated next to the pilot also served as navigator; two additional ECM operators were seated behind them.
An EA-6B Prowler from Electronic Warfare Squadron 137 from the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-65). Many considered the basic A2F/A-6 design ugly, but a certain beauty is seen in this aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing 14.
The Navy retired its last Prowlers in July 2015, and the Marine Corps early in 2019. The last Marine deployment supported U.S. and coalition forces over Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
The Prowler’s successor is the McDonnell Douglas EA-18G Growler. Derived from the F/A-18 Hornet, this aircraft is a two-seater, i.e., only one electronics operator. However, the higher degree of automation compared to the Prowler is believed to compensate for the operator reduction—according to some sources.
The Marines also are looking to a “more distributed strategy” for electronic warfare, where every platform can contribute. But it will be difficult to provide the capabilities that the EA-6B Prowler long delivered and that have been promised for the EA-18G Growler.
By Norman Polmar, Author, Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet