EA-6B Prowler is one unique aircraft. Its ability to support strike
aircraft is unparalleled, and the “Cougars” of
Electronic Air Squadron (VAQ) 139 prove that every day during
Operation Iraqi Freedom. “The Prowlers support strikers and
other aircraft against surface-to-air missiles and other air
defense threats,” said Electronic Countermeasures Officer
(ECMO) Lt. Shannon Callahan.
This umbrella of protection is accomplished through electronic
jamming and High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM). Callahan
explained that the aircraft’s electronic jamming pods are its
“bread and butter” and what makes them different from
“With the pods, we can direct energy into enemy target
radars and blind them," she said. "It's the only aircraft of its
type in the world. We [the United States] have never exported the
technology. We’re the only ones who have it.”
Senior Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Ray Hamilton added
that the technology has never been exported for security reasons.
“If we export it, other countries will know how to combat our
jamming tactics,” he said.
What it doesn’t blind, the Prowler otherwise suppresses
via the formidable HARM missiles it also carries. “When a
plane pinpoints a radar that’s transmitting, they fire the
missile, the missile locks on to the radar site, and then blows the
radar site up,” said Hamilton. Callahan said VAQ-139 has
launched missiles nearly every day in support of Operation Iraqi
Freedom. The four-man aircraft is manned by one pilot and three
ECMOs. Although there are naval flight officers in many types of
aircraft, ECMOs are only found in the Prowler.
“You have the pilot, who has stick and throttle in the
cockpit, and ECMO 1 sits next to him," Callahan said. "He not only
has co-pilot skills including navigation and communications, but
ECMO 1 may also act as a mission commander."
“ECMO 1 may also do targeting with the HARM, as well as
Comms EA [Communications Electronic Attack],” she added.
“In the back seat, you have the people who are running the
jammers, that’s ECMOs 2 and 3."
ECMOs 2 and 3 also do electronic surveillance and can do HARM
targeting, as well, according to Callahan. All the electronics
equipment and personnel inside the plane are protected from the
radiation produced by the jammers by a special gold filament on
both the canopies, which is yet another feature unique to the
Prowler. When strike aircraft shifted from flying patrols in the
no-fly zone to targeting Baghdad, as well as providing close-air
support to coalition ground troops, the importance of the
Prowlers’ role intensified as American lives were now
literally on the line.
“That was a big task, to protect the strikers when they
went into Baghdad, because it was so heavily protected,” said
Callahan. “To send a strike into Baghdad was a very dangerous
thing, and that’s why you had to have a Prowler there." With
its radar-jamming capabilities and HARM missiles, the unique
one-two punch that the Prowler packs has put it in high demand.
“Our jamming was required every day in Iraq for every
strike mission. The Prowlers are a ‘high-demand,
low-density’ asset, so we were booked,” Callahan said.
“We’ve been really successful, we’ve been getting
good feedback, and the strikers have told us that we’ve been
providing them very good coverage and protection.”
EA-6B is an airframe that’s been around more than 30 years
and is slated to be replaced by the EA-18G, tentatively nicknamed
the "Growler,” starting in 2008 with full replacement by
“It’s cheaper to build the (F/A-18) Hornets than to
rebuild the Prowler,” said Hamilton. For now though, the
EA-6B Prowler continues to make a difference in the air and on the
ground, in a way that only it can; prowling the skies to keep
coalition pilots and our ground forces safe.
[Thanks to Airman Brian Biller, USS Abraham
Lincoln PA -- ed.]