Four EA-6B Prowlers belonging to each Prowler squadron aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point conducted a “Final Four” division flight aboard the air station March 1, 2016. The “Final Four” flight is the last time the Prowler squadrons will be flying together before the official retirement of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 at the end of Fiscal Year 16 and the eventual transition to “MAGTF EW”. MAGTF EW is a more distributed strategy where every platform contributes to the EW mission, enabling relevant tactical information to move throughout the electromagnetic spectrum and across the battlefield faster than ever before.
The navy’s experience of operations over Vietnam and the good results obtained by modified Grumman Intruder aircraft deployed by the Marine Corps from 1964 led to the decision to develop a dedicated electronic warfare aircraft for carrier operation. Using the Intruder as a basis, Grumman produced the EA-6B Prowler, which had an extended forward fuselage to accommodate a crew of four and extensive specialized electronic warfare equipment carried both internally and in external pods. The Prowler entered frontline service in 1971 and remains fully operational today, having gone through four major upgrades of both its avionics and its structure to keep it at the cutting edge of electronic warfare. It wars replaced with a variant of the two-seater Super Hornet, the F/A-18G Growler, in 2009.
A total of 708 A-6 were built, 15 of which were EA-6As. First A-6A entered service in February 1963 with training squadron VA-42; first operational deployment with VA-75, May 1965. The last A-6, an A-6E, was delivered in January 1992. There are 130 composite-wing SWIP aircraft in storage. Some of these have been designated by the Navy for Foreign Military Sales (FMS). All A-6 Intruders were withdrawn in February 1997. Development contract issued autumn 1966; externally similar to basic A-6 except longer nose enclosing four-seat cockpit and large pod on fin; first flight 25 May 1968; delivery of first 12 production aircraft started January 1971; last of 170 (164403) delivered 29 July 1991.
ADVCAP (Advanced Capability/Block 91): First ADVCAP flight was 29 October 1989. Three prototypes were built and tested. The programme completed full-scale development but, because of USN budget constraints, was discontinued in 1994 just before low-rate initial production. ADVCAP included newly developed Receiver-Processor Group (RPG) for the tactical jamming system, dual AYK-14 XN-8 VHSIC computers, an AN/ALQ-149 communications countermeasures system, an ID Electronic Countermeasures Officer (ECMO) suite in the right front seat, AN/ARN-118 TACAN, two additional AN/ALE-chaff dispensers, GPS and disc-based onboard loader/recorder. Other improvements included activation of two additional pylon stations outboard of the wing folds, J52-P-409 turbojets and vehicle enhancements for improved aerodynamics inclusive of the development of a Navy Standard Automatic Flight Control System (SAFES). A subvariant identical to ADVCAP apart from the newer jamming subsystem was approved for export.
EXCAP: Expanded capability; 25 aircraft.
ICAP-I: Improved capability variant; increased jamming capacity; all aircraft updated to ICAP-2; 45 new-build; 21 production EA-6B modified to ICAP-1 and all production aircraft to 1983 built to this standard; modifications include seven-band onboard tactical jamming system, reduced response time and multiformat display, automatic All-weather Carrier Landing System (ACLS) new defensive ECM, new Communications-Navigation-Identification (CNI) system.
ICAP-II: Introduced further improved jamming capacity; now standard; prototype first flight 24 June 1980; first of 72 production aircraft (161776) delivered 3 January 1984; earlier aircraft modified to same standard; universal exciter in each of five external jamming pods can generate signals in one of seven different frequency bands instead of one, and each pod can jam in two frequency bands simultaneously. Subvariants of ICAP-2 are Block 82 and Block 86 (funded FY82 and FY86). Following 12 baseline aircraft, 162223 delivered 21 January 1986 as first of 23 Block 82s with HARM missile capability; Block 86 began 29 July 1988 at 163049, covering final 37 with expanded communications system and enhanced signal processing.
ICAP-III: The first US Navy EA-6B Prowler to be upgraded by Northrop Grumman to Increased Capability-III (ICAP-III) standard entered the programme in November 2000. The US$200 million ICAP-III is designed to improve the aircraft’s ability to defeat next-generation missile and electronic threats with upgrade of AIL AN/ALQ-99 tactical noise jamming system with a fully integrated reactive receiver. Other ICAP-III improvements include an integrated communications jamming system and Link-16 datalink, as well as new displays and controls. The entire 124-strong fleet will be similarly upgraded – the first returning to service in 2005. The first ICAP-III Prowler made its first flight on 16 November 2001. Initial operational capability for ICAP-III is slated for 2005. The US Navy is currently evaluating follow-on candidates for the Prowler, with the Boeing EA-18 `Growler’ most likely. Prowlers are expected to remain in service through to 2015, but in reduced numbers.
Block 89A: Programme underway to upgrade all 126 EA-6B aircraft to Block 89A configuration. Block 89A aircraft will have an enhanced computer, ARC-210 radio and embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS). First EA-6B Prowler Block 89A upgrade validation aircraft flew for the first time on 8 June 1997. In April 2001, Northrop Grumman was awarded a US$21 million contract for the upgrade of 29 US Navy EA-6B Prowlers. This involved the supply and installation of 23 Block-82 89A EA-6B Upgrade kits and 6 Block-89 89A EA-6B Upgrade kits.
AIL: Awarded US$11.6 million contract in February 1997 to exercise options for 25 universal exciter upgrade units. Work is scheduled for completion in 1999.
Block 89A: See Versions.
Northrop Grumman: Awarded contract in late 1995 to replace wing centre-sections and inner panels of 10 EA-6B Prowler aircraft. Contract value approximately US$80 million. Awarded a further US$41.9 million contract in 2001 to produce 17 wing centre sections for US Navy EA-6B Prowler fleet. The sections will help maintain the service life of the Prowler to 2015 when the next-generation tactical jamming platform is expected to enter service. Deliveries of the centre sections, which absorb a major portion of the impact of carrier landings, will commence in March 2002, and the contract includes an option for 10 more units.
Northrop Grumman: Awarded contract in late 1995 to remanufacture four EA-6B Prowlers of the US Navy to ICAP-II Block 89A configuration. First flight of the first of the four aircraft took place on 8 June 1997. Contract value approximately US$34 million.
Northrop Grumman: Awarded contract on 18 February 1997 to upgrade 20 EA-6B Block 82 aircraft to Block 89 configuration. Northrop Grumman: ICAP III upgrade. See Versions above.
Sanders: Awarded a US$18.9 million contract in October 1996 to upgrade 30 existing AN/USQ-113 communications jammers on US Navy EA-6B aircraft. Sanders is to commence work in July 1997 and complete programme by May 1998. Upgrade is to consist of new receivers, power amplifiers and transmitters.
Tracor Aerospace: Awarded US$9.8 million contract in April 1997 to design, develop and test seven AN/ALQ-99 low-band transmitters to improve the tactical jamming capability of the AN/ALQ-99 jamming system. Tracor was awarded a US$60 million contract in early 1998 by the US Navy to supply 120 AN/ALQ-99 Band 9/10 systems. An option for a further 61 systems could increase the value to US$91 million
EA-6B Prowler E-21. The EA-6B Prowler is a subsonic, all-weather, carrier-capable aircraft. The crew consists of one pilot and three electronic countermeasure officers. The EA-6B has two primary missions. One is collecting and processing designated threat signals of interest for jamming and subsequent processing, analysis, and intelligence reporting. The other is employing the AGM-88 high-speed antiradiation missile against designated targets. The EA-6B’s AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming system incorporates receivers for the reception of emitted signals and external jamming pods for the transmission of energy to jam targeted radars (principally those associated with enemy air defense radars and associated command and control). In addition to the AN/ALQ-99, the EA-6B also employs the USQ-113 communications jammer to collect, record, and disrupt threat communications.
During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq one American EA-6B Prowler pilot, conducting SEAD, experienced being shot at by up to seven Iraqi SAMs all at once. this barrage, though, was largely ineffectual and there were claims that the poorly maintained Iraqi SAMs were falling back onto the city’s civilian areas.
Joint Mission Planning System E-22. The joint mission planning system helps the EA-6B aircrew plan and optimize receivers, jammers, and high-speed antiradiation missiles. This system allows an operator to-
Maintain area of operations emitter listings.
Edit emitter parameters.
Develop mission-specific geographic data and electronic order of battle to- Tailor or create high-speed antiradiation missile direct attack libraries, or manually modify entries or new threat cards. Plan target selection.
Perform postflight mission analysis to-
Identify electronic emitters using various electronic parameter databases and electronic intelligence analytical techniques.
Localize emitters by coordinates with a certain circular error of probability for each site.
Correlate new information with existing data.
Gather postflight high-speed antiradiation missile information. This information includes aircraft launch parameters, predicted seeker footprint, and the onboard system detection of a targeted signal at impact.
Versions of the EA-6B Prowler are in service with the US armed forces (123).
US$55.7 million system unit cost, 1987.
Generally as for A-6E; four crew and fintip antenna.
As A-6E, but modified wingtip speed brakes in ADVCAP (see above).
Wings as for A-6E, but reinforced to allow for greater gross weight, fatigue life and 5.5 g load factor. Fuselage as for A-6E, but lengthened by 1.37 m (4 ft 6 in).
As for A-6E, except for reinforcement of attachments. A-frame arrester hook and upgrading of structure to cater for increased gross weight.
Two Pratt & Whitney J52-P-408 turbojets, each rated at 49.8 kN (11,200 lb st). ADVCAP retrofit includes 53.38 kN (12,000 lb st) J52-P-409s.
Crew of four under two separate upward-opening canopies. Martin-Baker GRUEA 7 ejection seats for crew. The two additional crewmen are ECM Officers to operate the ALQ-99 equipment from the rear cockpit. Either ECMO can independently detect, assign, adjust and monitor the jammers. The ECMO in the starboard front seat is responsible for communications, navigation, defensive ECM and chaff dispensing.
AN/ALQ-99F tactical jamming system, in five integrally powered pods, with a total of 10 jamming transmitters. Each pod covers one of seven frequency bands. Sensitive surveillance receivers in the fintip pod for long-range detection of radars; emitter information is fed to a central digital computer (AN/AYK-14 in ICAP-2 aircraft) that processes the signals for display and recording. Detection, identification, direction-finding and jammer set-on sequence can be performed automatically or with manual assistance from crew. PRB Associates AN/TSQ-142 tactical mission support system. Teledyne Systems AN/ASN-123 navigation system with digital display group.
Maximum speed: 566 knots (651 mph, 1,050 km/h)
Cruise speed: 418 kt (481 mph, 774 km/h)
Range: 2,022 mi (tanks kept) / 2,400 mi (tanks dropped) (3,254 km / 3,861 km)
Service ceiling: 37,600 ft (11,500 m)
Rate of climb: 12,900 ft/min (65 m/s)
Wing loading: 116 lb/ft² (560 kg/m²)
Hardpoints: 5 total: 1× centreline/under-fuselage plus 4× under-wing pylon stations with a capacity of 18,000 pounds (8,164.7 kg) and provisions to carry combinations of:
Missiles: Up to 4× AGM-88 HARM Anti-radiation missiles (2x typically carried)
Other: Up to 5× 300 US gallons (1,100 L) external drop tanks
Up to 5× AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) external pods
AN/ALE-43(V)1&4 Bulk Chaff Dispensing System pod
AN/AAQ-28(V) Litening targeting pod (USMC only)