MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Communications can win or lose wars. During World War II, American code breakers broke the Japanese naval codes, gaining enough intelligence to contribute to the victory in the Battle of Midway. In the European theater, code breakers deciphered the German’s Enigma code, leading to a flawlessly executed deception campaign culminating in the successful landing at Normandy.
With new methods of communication developing all the time, the United States military had every intention of attacking enemy communications effectively while maintaining proper communications internally. A proper platform for electronic warfare had to be mobile and transmit from a high location. The newly invented jet fit the bill, and Marine squadrons would take the job.
“It started in Vietnam with Lt. Gen. Philip D. Shutler, who was one of the programmers at D.C. Aviation and they found a need for jamming aircraft to support the bombers going into Vietnam from surface-to-air threats,” said Col. Philip J. Zimmerman, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Prowler electronic countermeasures officer. “So they took an A-6 and modified it, becoming the EA-6A with receivers and jamming pods on it. They found it to become effective, and it grew into a program of its own. The EA-6B was developed in the early 70s and from there they started fielding it.”
In 1978, the EA-6B Prowler became the electronic warfare platform of the Marine Corps. With the Prowler, the Marine Corps hoped to pass beyond just jamming enemy radar and gain control over the “electromagnetic spectrum,” or the medium through which modern militaries communicate.
“The Prowlers essentially work in the electromagnetic spectrum, and within that realm, there is a wide variety of things that we can touch, influence or manage the battlefield in some way, shape or form,” said Maj. Roderick D. Capili, the executive officer of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2. “We can’t say specifically what we do, but a lot of it involves hindering the enemy’s abilities to conduct a cohesive war front. We disrupt their ability to organize and disrupt their ability to be effective with command and control functions on the battlefield.”
On every deployment, VMAQ squadrons would take on this role during multiple training operations and several combat deployments, including the first and second Persian Gulf Wars and the war in Afghanistan. The age of the aircraft, however, may soon be catching up to it.
“The Prowler has been in existence in the Marine Corps since at least the mid-70s,” said Capili. “We’re celebrating 36 years of the EA-6B in the Marine Corps July 1, 2011; it’s becoming a tired aircraft. The cost of maintenance and the cost of upkeep are becoming highly impaired.”
The new F-35B will be expected to take over many of the same jobs the Prowler is capable of undertaking. In past operations, the Prowler would support the fighter aircraft. The F-35B can support itself in many respects and make operational planning easier.
“The F-35’s abilities in stealth or be undetected basically enables it to take some of the requirements that we provide in a strike package,” said Capili. “The intent was for the F-35 without having the need for a Prowler to jam radar, because they have the ability to not be detected. It’s basically integrating the capabilities that we provide into a newer aircraft, which then reduces the requirement for the number of aircraft needed to carry out an operation. If the squadrons have a commonality in their aircraft, operational planning will be easier."
With the Marine Corps planning to change its AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers over to F-35s is the retirement of a Prowler due to the expected new aircraft an assumption on the author’s part ... or based on fact or statements by appropriate authorities. The first Prowler was officially retired June 10, 2011, when it made its final active duty flight. Pilots from both the Harrier and Prowler community are already being selected to fly the new F-35. As technology advances, the Marine Corps again marches into the future.