Tag Archives: EA-6B Prowler

These U.S. Marine Corps VMAQ-2 EA-6B Jets Have Just Completed The Prowler’s Final Deployment Before Retirement

The final operational chapter of the Prowler career has just been written by the U.S. Marine Corps “Death Jesters” and their six EA-6Bs jets.

Marine Corps Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-2 (VMAQ-2) “Death Jesters”, the last of four Marine Prowler squadrons, has just completed its final deployment in Qatar, with the last six EA-6B in the U.S. military inventory.

Four aircraft, using radio callsign “Trend 01-04” landed at Lajes, Azores, on their way back to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, from Al Udeid, Qatar, on Nov. 12, 2018. The remaining two aircraft would follow in a couple of days (they were left behind due to technical issues).

The first pair (“Trend 01-02”) was supported by “Blue 52”, an Air Force Reserve KC-135R operated by the 916 Aerospace Refuelling Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, that also landed at Lajes.

Interestingly, one of the aircraft, 163047/CY-05, sported “Agent 007” markings inside the split trailing edge air brakes as the following image shows:

EA-6B 163047/CY-05 with 007 markings landing at Lajes field.

The EA-6B was born out of military requirements during the Vietnam War. It entered service in 1971 and 170 aircraft were produced before the production was terminated in 1991. For more than four decades, the Prowler has been “at the forefront of military electronic warfare allowing high-profile air combat missions.”

162934/CY-01 about to land at Lajes field on its way back to CONUS after the EA-6B’s last deployment.

During the last deployment the aircraft have supported Operation Resolute Support and Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan as well as Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria. The primary mission of the aircraft was to support ground-attack strikes by disrupting enemy electromagnetic activity and, as a secondary mission, to gather tactical electronic intelligence within a combat zone, and, if necessary, attacking enemy radar sites with HARM missiles.

Despite their age, the EA-6Bs have been among the most important assets in the air war against Daesh: they eavesdropped “enemy” radio signals and jammed those frequencies in order to prevent terrorists from talking one another on the radio or cell phone, or use portable transmitters to trigger IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).



Actually, rather than the obsolescence of the onboard EW (Electronic Warfare) sensors, the main issue that has affected the Prowler fleet what has been keeping the legacy aircraft in the air.

“It’s not an easy airplane to work on. Nowadays, components tell you they need to be replaced, skilled troubleshooting doesn’t exactly exist the way that it used to and working on this plane is very much a different skill,” Lt. Col. Andrew A. Rundle, VMAQ-2 commanding officer, said in a recent release.

A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler, assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, banks away after receiving in-flight fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) during an aerial refueling mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq, June 28, 2018. The 28th EARS is assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group and supports various operations in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. In conjunction with partner forces, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve defeats ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and sets conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

“You could think you know what is wrong with it and you fix what you think is wrong only to find it had nothing to do with what was wrong and it didn’t help or fix anything,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Randall, VMAQ-2 maintenance control chief. “You could troubleshoot for days in the wrong direction, but because it is an old airplane there are lots of wires and things that don’t even go to things anymore and through updates and upgrades there are things that cause problems that you never would have thought. Changes that were made 10 or 15 years ago have surfaced and reared their head.”

Marines deployed with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 pose for a group photo on the ramp at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Aug. 16, 2018. Marines with VMAQ-2 are taking part in the final EA-6B Prowler deployment before the final six aircraft in the U.S. military inventory are retired. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jose Diaz/Released)

On the maintenance front, Randall acknowledged some challenges with those who have come to the EA-6B in recent years with the aircraft’s sunset on the horizon.

“Almost every air mission that people have heard about since the 1970s likely involved a Prowler in some way and we don’t talk about it,” said Randall. “I think that’s the cool thing we all know in the back of our heads. The public reads that bombing missions happened here or we got so and so or completed this mission and you read about the flashier airplanes such as the B-1s, the F-18s, the stealth fighters that took off from wherever, but you never read about the Prowler that had to be in the area days prior or had to be around the area to complete its mission to allow the bigger mission to happen.”

The U.S. Navy retired their Prowler fleet in 2015, shifting the EA (Electronic Attack) workload to the EA-18G Growler. The Death Jesters will retire the EA-6B Prowler in 2019, the second-to-last U.S. Prowler Squadron, the VMAQ-3 Moon Dogs, was deactivated last spring.

All images courtesy APS – Associação Portugal Spotters (Portuguese Spotters Association) unless otherwise stated.

 

Russia Claims 71 Out Of 105 Cruise Missiles Downed In Yesteday’s Air Strikes. None Were Shot Down According to The US.

Pentagon Publishes Effective Strike Data. Russia Claims 71 Cruise Missiles Downed.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom launched strikes against targets in Syria on Friday night U.S. time, early morning in Syria. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, told news media that the strikes hit three targets inside Syria.

The targets included a research facility in the Syrian capital of Damascus alleged to be used in chemical weapons production, a storage facility thought to house chemical weapon stockpiles west of Homs, Syria and a command and control facility outside Homs claimed to also be used for weapons storage.

A chart released by the Pentagon showing the three sites targeted by the air strike on Apr. 14.

The last cruise missiles may have landed in Syria for now but the propaganda war is in full swing between the U.S. and its allies as Russia and Syria claim vastly different results from overnight strikes.

Soon after the strikes in Syria ended today Russian news media claimed that 71 cruise missiles were intercepted during the strikes on Syria Friday night/Saturday morning. In a press conference today, Russian Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, Colonel Sergei Rudskoy, said Syrian military facilities had suffered only minor damage from the strikes.

By contrast, in a press conference on Saturday morning, April 14, U.S. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told journalists the U.S. and its allies, “successfully hit every target” during the strikes from the U.S., Britain and France. U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., The Director of the Joint Staff (DJS) displayed photos of targets that were hit in Syria during the press conference. “We are confident that all of our missiles reached their targets,” Lt. Gen. McKenzie told reporters, in direct contrast to Russian claims that cruise missiles were shot down by Syrian defenses.

The U.S. released the following details on weapons employed in the overnight strike:

From the Red Sea:

USS Monterey (Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser) – 30 Tomahawk missiles

USS Laboon (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 7 Tomahawk missiles

From the North Arabian Gulf:

USS Higgins (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) – 23 Tomahawk missiles

From the eastern Mediterranean:

USS John Warner (Virginia class submarine) – 6 Tomahawk missiles

A French frigate ship (could not understand name) – 3 missiles (naval version of SCALP missiles)

From the air:

2 B-1 Lancer bombers – 19 joint air to surface standoff missiles

British flew a combination of Tornado and Typhoon jets – 8 Storm Shadow missiles

French flew a combination of Rafales and Mirages – 9 SCALP missiles

The above order of battle does not include the F-16s and F-15s aircraft providing DCA (Defensive Counter Air) nor the U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler that provided EW escort to the B-1s.

[Read also: Everything We Know (And No One Has Said So Far) About The First Waves Of Air Strikes On Syria]

One fact that both sides seem to agree on is that all U.S., French and UK aircraft involved in the strike returned to their bases successfully. Ships that participated in the strike remained at sea without armed confrontation from Syria or Russia. This alone marks a victory for the allied forces striking Syria following a week of rhetoric by Russia about defending Syrian interests. Based on this outcome it would appear the U.S. and its allies can strike targets in the heavily defended region with impunity. U.S President Donald Trump tweeted “Mission accomplished!” on Saturday morning.

While claims of success or failure by either side in a conflict are usually manipulated to control public perceptions Russia does have a long reputation for effective and highly adaptive air defense systems, as the U.S. does for precision strike success using cruise missiles. Russia also has a reputation for using media as a tool to craft perception of outcomes, historically to a greater degree than the U.S. But despite Russia’s admittedly dangerous air defense technology in Syria, it would appear the three nations delivering the overnight strikes in Syria achieved their objectives without loss.

One potential factor that may have influenced the effectiveness of some U.S. weapons systems was that the U.S. Administration was very vocal about the upcoming strikes, giving significant advanced warning to Russian-supplied Syrian air defense units. It is reasonable to suggest that Syrian air defense units spent this entire previous week preparing for a predicted U.S. and allied strike on Syria. Based on intelligence gathered by Syrian and Russian air defense crews from the U.S. strike exactly a year and a week ago on Shayrat Airbase in Syria, air defense crews were likely well-drilled and prepared to meet a U.S.-led attack on their claimed chemical weapons facilities. By contrast, this also gave the U.S led trio of nations participating in the strike time to gather intelligence about Syrian air defense capabilities so attack plans could be optimized to avoid losses. This approach appears to have prevailed in this strike.

If Syrian air defense units were ineffective in stopping U.S. cruise missiles, and most information now points to that outcome (actually, it looks like the Syrians fired their missiles after the last missile had hit), this represents a significant blow to the Assad regime and to Russia’s ability to assist in an effective air defense in the region.

The Tomahawk missile, one of several stand-off weapons used in the overnight strikes in Syria, is an older and still effective weapons platform especially in its most updated versions. Tomahawks were first employed in the 1991 strikes against Iraq when 288 of them were fired in the opening days of the war. While first adopted over 35 years ago, the Tomahawk has been repeatedly upgraded but remains somewhat limited by its overall dimensions that prevent it from having a larger engine installed that would deliver greater speed. The missile currently flies to its target at low altitude and subsonic speeds of about 550 miles per hour. This low speed may make it vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems Russia is known for such as its advanced S-400 system, called the SA-21 Growler in the west. However, the low altitude flight profile of an attacking Tomahawk, its ability to use terrain masking for cover and concealment and its relatively small size, significantly smaller than a manned combat aircraft, make it a difficult target for even the most advanced air defense systems.

The Russian supplied air defense systems in use in Syria that include the S-400 missile and its 92N6E “Gravestone” fire control radar along with other systems are highly mobile and highly adaptive. That means that, while intelligence sources can pinpoint the locations of Syrian air defense systems prior to a strike, those systems can be moved in the hours before a strike to present a different threat posture to attacking missiles and aircraft. Most of the launch platforms for the BGM-109 Tomahawk are large, non-stealthy surface ships, although submerged submarines also launch Tomahawks. The newest version Block IV Tomahawk missile employs several upgrades to its guidance and targeting systems that improve accuracy and flexibility, but may increase time over a target area, making the missile potentially more vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.

It is likely more modern stand-off weapons like the UK’s MBDA Storm Shadow and French SCALP-EG cruise missile along with the new AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range) were highly effective in Friday night’s strike on Syria by UK, France and the U.S. If this were the case the Tomahawks may have served a purpose by engaging relatively lightly defended targets while attacks by the more recent version of SCALP and JASSM-ER missiles could have struck more heavily defended targets.

As with most conflicts the ancient cliché about the truth being one of the first casualties seems to be true in this latest exchange in Syria, but the emerging strike intelligence from the U.S., England and France suggest this round goes to them and a significant blow was dealt to the Russian-backed Assad.

One the B-1s involved in the air strikes takes off from Al Udeid, Qatar. Image credit: US DoD via Oriana Pawlyk

 

Here’s what happens if you are a bit too close to the exhaust on an EA-6B Prowler during catapult launch

Working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier can be extremely dangerous!

The video below was reportedly filmed aboard USS Kitty Hawk during the final launches of the embarked U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft at the end of the deployment.

It shows a “troubleshooter” or “Final Checker”, be blown away by the jet blast of the aircraft during the catapult launch.

The role of the final checker (with a white jersey) is to make sure the aircraft’s flight controls are freely moving and that everything is ok. So they have to operate quite close to plane to spot potential hydraulic leaks or something that could lead to an aborted launch.

Here’s how the mishap is described by the alleged cameraman on Liveleak:

“This was the final flight on our deployment. During the final flight, people tend to push the boundaries because the deployment is over. Getting close to the exhaust on launch is a kind of “right of passage” for most troubleshooters since it increases the jet blast. So, the guy in the video decided that he wanted to get closer to the exhaust. He got a little TOO close and it threw him about 40 feet. The deck of the carrier is extremely rough and cover with “non-skid.” It’s so rough it can wear out the sole of you shoes in about 5 months. He was extremely scraped up, but took it like a champ!”

“As far as why the checkers stand so close, that is a personal preference. You need to be somewhat close so you can observe the aircraft” says another guy who’s posted a similar video to Youtube.

“You need to be somewhat close so you can observe the aircraft. The Prowler‘s jet exhaust blows down and out, so when the aircraft takes off, the closer you are, the harder it hits you.”