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EA-6B Prowler

The EA-6B Prowler is a twin-engine, mid-wing electronic warfare aircraft manufactured by Grumman (now Northrop Grumman Aerospace) as a modification of the basic A-6 Intruder airframe.


The Prowler has a crew of four, a pilot and three Electronic Counter-measures Officers (known as ECMOs). Powered by two non-afterburning Pratt & Whitney J52-P408 turbojet engines, it is capable of speeds of up to 950 km/h (590 miles per hour) with a range of 1,840 kilometers (1,140 miles). Since EW operations are very demanding, the Prowler is a high-maintenance aircraft and also undergoes more frequent equipment upgrades than any other aircraft in the Navy.

Design particulars include the refueling probe being asymmetrical, appearing bent to the right; it contains an antenna near its root. The canopy has a shading of gold not for sunlight but to protect the crew against the radio emissions that the electronic warfare equipment produces.

Although designed as an electronic escort and command and control platform for strike missions, the EA-6B is also capable of attacking surface targets on its own, especially radars, SAM launchers, and other enemy defenses. The AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) is the main offensive strike weapon of the Prowler. In addition, the aircraft is highly capable of conducting electronic intelligence (ELINT) collection.

An earlier EA-6A "Electric Intruder" was developed during the Vietnam War. Basically a straightforward conversion of the standard two-seat A-6 airframe fitted with EW equipment, it was essentially an interim aircraft used only by a few USMC squadrons.

The much more advanced and substantially redesigned EA-6B first flew on May 25, 1968 and entered service in July 1971.

Advanced Capability EA-6B (ADVCAP)

The Advanced Capability EA-6B Prowler (ADVCAP) was a development program initiated to improve the flying qualities of the EA-6B and to upgrade the avionics and electronic warfare systems. The intention was to modify all EA-6B's into the ADVCAP configuration, however the program was removed from the Fiscal Year 1995 budget due to financial pressure from competing Department of Defense acquisition programs.

The ADVCAP development program was initiated in the late 1980s and was broken into three distinct phases: Full-Scale Development (FSD), Vehicle Enhancement Program (VEP) and the Avionics Improvement Program (AIP).

FSD served primarily to evaluate the new AN/ALQ-149 Electronic Warfare System. The program utilized a slightly modified EA-6B to house the new system.

The VEP added numerous changes to the aircraft to address deficiencies with the original EA-6B flying qualities, particularly lateral-directional problems that exacerbated recovery from out-of-control flight. Bureau Number 158542 was used. Changes included:

  • Leading edge strakes (to improve directional stability)
  • Fin pod extension (to improve directional stability)
  • Ailerons (to improve slow speed lateral control)
  • Recontoured leading edge slats and trailing edge flaps (to compensate for an increase in gross weight)
  • Two additional wing stations on the outer wing panel (for jamming pods only)
  • New J52-P-409 engines (increased thrust by 2000 lbf (8.9 kN) per engine)
  • New digital Standard Automatic Flight Control System (SAFCS)

The added modifications increased the aircraft gross weight approximately 2,000 pound (900 kg) and shifted the center of gravity 3% MAC aft of the baseline EA-6B. When operating at sustained high angles-of-attack, fuel migration would cause additional shifts in CG with the result that the aircraft had slightly negative longitudinal static stability. Results of flight tests of the new configuration showed greatly improved flying qualities and the rearward shift of the CG had minimal impact.

The AIP prototype (bureau number 158547) represented the final ADVCAP configuration, incorporating all of the FSD and VEP modifications plus a completely new avionics suite which added multi-function displays to all crew positions, a head-up display for the pilot, and dual Global Positioning System/INS navigation systems. The initial joint test phase between the contractor and the US Navy test pilots completed successfully with few deficiencies.

After the program was canceled, the three experimental Prowlers, BuNo 156482, 158542 and 158547, were mothballed until 1999. During the next several years, the three aircraft were dismantled and reassembled creating a single aircraft, b/n 158542, which the Navy dubbed "FrankenProwler". It was returned to active service March 23, 2005.

Improved Capability (ICAP)

Northrop Grumman received contracts from the US Navy to deliver new electronic countermeasures gear to Prowler squadrons; the heart of each ICAP III set consists of the ALQ-218 receiver and new software that provides more precise selective-reactive radar jamming and threat location. The ICAP III sets also are equipped with the Multifunction Information Distribution System (MIDS), which includes the Link 16 data link system. Northrop has delivered two lots and will be delivering two more beginning in 2010.


Designed for carrier and advanced base operations, the Prowler is a fully integrated electronic warfare system combining long-range, all-weather capabilities with advanced electronic countermeasures. A forward equipment bay and pod-shaped fairing on the vertical fin house the additional avionics equipment. It is the United States Navy's (USN) and the United States Marine Corps's primary electronic warfare aircraft. 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.

Operational history

Since the retirement of the EF-111 Raven in 1995, the EA-6B is one of the primary aerial radar jammers in the Department of Defense (DoD) arsenal. It has been utilized in practically every US combat operation and is frequently flown in support of the United States Air Force.

About 125 Prowlers remain today, divided between 12 Navy, 4 Marine, and 4 joint Navy-Air Force "Expeditionary" squadrons. A JCS staff study recommended that the EF-111 Raven be retired to reduce Type/Model/Series aircraft dedicated to the same mission, which led to an OSD Program Decision Memorandum (PDM) to establish 4 "expeditionary" Prowler squadrons composed of Navy and USAF personnel to meet the needs of the Air Force.

Though once considered being replaced by Common Support Aircraft, the original plan failed to materialize. Although EA-6B remains in service today, the Navy EA-6B Prowler community is slated to be begin transitioning in 2009 to the EA-18G Growler, a new electronic warfare derivative of the F/A-18F Super Hornet. All but one active duty Navy EA-6B squadrons are based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, located in the northwest corner of the state of Washington. VAQ-136 is stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, as part of Carrier Air Wing 5, the forward deployed air wing that deploys aboard USS George Washington and VAQ-209, a Navy Reserve squadron, is stationed at NAF Washington, DC. Marine EA-6B squadrons are located at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

Operations in Afghanistan & Iraq

According to news reports, the Prowler has been used in anti-IED operations in the current conflict in Afghanistan for several years by jamming remote detonation devices such as garage door openers or cellular telephones. Two Prowler squadrons are also based in Iraq, working with the same mission.


The EA-6B Prowler is operated by the United States, and has squadrons in both its Marine Corps and Navy.

USMC squadrons

VMAQ squadrons operate the EA-6B Prowler. Each of the four squadrons operates five aircraft and are land-based (although they are capable of landing on board U.S. Navy aircraft carriers).

Squadron Name Insignia Nickname Date Commissioned Senior Command Station
July 1, 1992
MAG-14, 2nd MAW
MCAS Cherry Point, NC
Death Jesters
September 15, 1952
MAG-14, 2nd MAW
MCAS Cherry Point, NC
Moon Dogs
July 1, 1992
MAG-14, 2nd MAW
MCAS Cherry Point, NC
November 7, 1981
MAG-14, 2nd MAW
MCAS Cherry Point, NC

USN squadrons

A typical Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron consists of 4 EA-6B Prowlers. Navy Electronic Attack squadrons carry the letters VAQ (V-fixed wing, A-attack, Q-electronic). Most VAQ squadrons are carrier based, however a number are "expeditionary", deploying to overseas land bases.

Squadron Name Insignia Nickname Date Commissioned Carrier air wing Station
September 1, 1970
Fleet Replacement Squadron
NAS Whidbey Island
October 1, 1968
NAS Whidbey Island
NAS Whidbey Island
April 1957
NAS Whidbey Island
March 4, 1969
NAS Whidbey Island
June 7, 1969
NAS Whidbey Island
Black Ravens
May 15, 1969
NAS Whidbey Island
April 6, 1973
NAF Atsugi
December 14, 1973
NAS Whidbey Island
February 1976
NAS Whidbey Island
July 1, 1983
NAS Whidbey Island
October 1, 1985
NAS Whidbey Island
NAS Whidbey Island
Gray Wolves
June 1, 1988
NAS Whidbey Island
NAS Whidbey Island
Star Warriors
October 1, 1977
Reserve Tactical Support Wing
NAF Andrews

Notable incidents

While no Prowler has ever been lost in combat, over forty were destroyed in various accidents as of 2007.

Specifications (EA-6B)

See also




  • Miska, Kurt H. "Grumman A-6A/E Intruder; EA-6A; EA6B Prowler (Aircraft in Profile number 252)". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 14. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1974, p. 137-160. ISBN 0-85383-023-1.

External links

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