Another iconic piece of Cold War hardware is flying into historyas the US Marine Corps retires that last of its Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. In a ceremony last Friday, US Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2), Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina stood down the last Prowler squadron after 42 years of service.
Though fighter planes seem to get all the glory, military air fleets are actually a pretty diverse collection without which the fighters would be a load of very expensive paperweights. One example is the venerable EA-6B Prowler, which is an electronics countermeasures aircraft built by Grumman (Now Northrop Grumman).
The long-range, all-weather, four-seat, twin-jet-engined, mid-wing craft is based on the earlier A-6 Intruder and entered service with the US Navy and US Marine Corps in the 1970s. Sixty feet (17.7 m) long and with a wingspan of 53 ft (15.9 m), the Prowler has a cruising speed of 418 knots (481 mph, 774 km/h) and a range of 2,400 mi (3,861 km) using drop tanks.
The Prowler's function was to clear the way for fighter and bomber aircraft by suppressing enemy air defenses. Specifically, its pilot and three electronic countermeasures officers would use the aircraft's electronics countermeasure packages to detect, analyze, and jam hostile radar and other electronics before they could get a target lock. If more forceful persuasion was needed, the Prowler had HARM anti-radiation missiles designed to home in on radar signals and destroy the transmitter.
Despite flying over 260,000 hours with the Marines alone in every major US combat operation since 1977, technology caught up with the Prowler and it is being replaced by the Boeing EA-18G Growler, which is based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The last US Navy Prowlers were retired in 2015 and the Marines have been withdrawing its squadrons since 2016.