Nobody Asked Me, But . . . - We Still Need the Prowler

By Lieutenant Colonel Rick Johnson, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Throughout the past 40 years, the Prowler has proven again and again the significance of airborne EW support. There is no assurance that dedicated airborne EW support based on hypothetical pods and unmanned aircraft systems and ground EW will be there in the future when needed.

Initially HQMC touted the F-35B aircraft’s integrated on-board weapon systems and ASA radar as the EA-6B replacement, but the capabilities of this fifth-generation attack/fighter aircraft were overestimated. With the F-35 unable to meet airborne EW expectations, the Navy has turned to the EA-18G Growler over the next 20 years, while the Marines have turned to an unproven and untested “concept.”

The ICAP III weapon system is state-of-the-art, designed to oppose the complex, sophisticated integrated air-defense systems and radars that our fighters and attack aircraft will encounter on today’s electronic battlefield. The aging EA-6B airframe was a major issue that has been addressed: all EA-6B ICAP III aircraft have received airframe and wing upgrades that have extended the structure’s life expectancy another eight years. After 2022, major funding would be needed for further wing and airframe longevity.

Even though the sundown of the VMAQ community is a reality, delaying the initial stand-down of the first squadron until 2019 would be prudent and judicious, based on current F-35B program issues and operational projections. This decision would minimize the loss of EA-6B EW support, while providing additional time to validate and bring to fruition the MAGTF EW Concept and further review alternatives to aviation EW/EA-6B capabilities.

The EA-6B ICAP III Block 5 and EA-18G Growler have very similar weapon systems, and each has received periodic software and hardware improvements. Either aircraft could be used to meet Marine Corps airborne EW requirements. However, having three electronic-countermeasures officers in a Prowler versus one electronic-warfare officer in a Growler provides a tremendous advantage in operating the aircraft’s weapon systems. As in the adage “train as you fight,” Marines supporting Marines should be the preferred method. The MAGTF was designed to meet all Corps expeditionary combat requirements. That warfighting doctrine and capability should be retained.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnson is a Cubic EA-6B ICAP III instructor at Cherry Point, North Carolina, having trained EA-6B aircrew for more than 18 years. Of his 23 years in the Marine Corps, he served 6 as an EW officer on four Marine headquarters staffs, and 12 in VMAQ-2 (2 as commanding officer), amassing more than 2,800 EA-6B flight hours.


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