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Thu, Jun 14, 2007

EA-6B Prowler Finds New Role Thwarting IEDs In Iraq

Jams Signals From Cell Phones, Garage Door Openers

It first appeared at the end of the Vietnam conflict and served in Kosovo and during the first Gulf war. Its electronic warfare system is considered so valuable by the Pentagon, it makes sure no US aircraft carrier goes into battle without a few on board.

The primary function of the EA-6B Prowler up till now has been to escort US attack jets while jamming the enemy radios, hostile radars and air defense batteries aimed at them, according to the Associated Press.

Today, it has been redefined to take on a new mission: jamming ground signals from devices such as mobile phones and garage door openers that act as detonators for improvised explosive devices (IED), said U.S. Navy Capt. David Woods.

Although its success is difficult to measure, the Prowler is thought to be one of the most effective weapons against the biggest threat to a soldier's life: roadside bombs.

Woods, one of the Navy's most experienced Prowler pilots, believes the aircraft is making a difference. "When it's flying we have greater success and fewer IEDs going off," he said. "It's kind of an insurance policy."

Capt. Woods is the commander of Carrier Air Wing 11, and says there aren't many people who comprehend the Prowler's mission, which is to control the electromagnetic spectrum. This task is so critical, the Pentagon had the technology classified. Even the crew's training is a tightly guarded secret.

The AP gathered information from outside experts that say receivers inside the tail collect radio signals for computer analysis. The threat is identified through a match in the computer's extensive "threat library" database.

Once they know what they're dealing with, the crew of three electronic countermeasures officers transmits electromagnetic energy across a vast range of frequencies, including those from television, radio and the internet, and jams the signal.

Woods said there are currently two Prowler squadrons at sea somewhere in Mideast. One is on the USS John C. Stennis, and the other is onboard the Nimitz. Two more are land-based in Iraq.

According to Woods, the Prowlers operate between 20,000 and 30,000 feet emitting its electromagnetic signals over areas with a potential of insurgent roadside bombs.

The Prowler has one Achilles heel: its jamming gear is not effective on bombs hard-wired to triggers. And for all its usefulness, the Prowler is getting old. Acutely aware of this fact, the Pentagon is testing its replacement: the EA-18G Growler.

As ANN reported, the Growler made its first appearance in the Pacific Northwest at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island (NASWI) on April 9.

The Growler combines the capabilities of the F/A-18F Super Hornet with the Prowler and will provide next-generation electronic attack capability to the joint war fighter. The arrival marks the first time fleet air crewmen and maintenance men got to lay their hands on the new platform concept jet.

The Growler can achieve optimum speeds of Mach 1.8 and capable of offensive electronic jamming, electronic emissions detection, classification and monitoring; and electronic suppression of enemy air defenses. Along with being a state of the art weapon system, it also is economic by retaining 90 percent common parts with the Super Hornet, while reducing the operational crew from four to two.

The Pentagon is spending $9 billion on 90 of the next-generation fighters, scheduled for entry into service by 2009 fully replacing Prowler squadrons by 2013.

The Navy says signal jamming work will eventually be done with unmanned aerial vehicles.

"People are excited about the arrival of the Growler, because it is new," said Operation Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) Jonathan Fields, NASWI range and schedule department leading petty officer. "Some of the service members may be sad to see the Prowler go, but they are looking forward to see some of the advancements in the Growler."

FMI: www.navy.mil

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