John D. "Jay" "HALFMAN" Weides Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
J. David "Perch" Weber Col., USMC (Ret.) MS Ed., Teacher
With Additions and corrections by CWO-4 Marty Lachow and Maj. Hugh T. Carter
Early in the 1960's, the Marine Corps made a significant and far-reaching decision. Recognizing the need for an aircraft designed from the ground up to perform tactical electronic warfare missions, it fought a hard fight against the dissenters of limited vision.
Amid howls of protest that such an aircraft would cost too much and that the mission that it was being designed to perform was impossible, the Marine Corps fought its case before Congress.
Five names worthy of mention in the fight for the EA-6A are Col. Howie Wolf, LtCol. Ed "Skinney" Finlayson, Mr. Al Rogers of Grumman Aircraft Corporation, LtGen. Phil Shutler and Col. Bob Farley. The birth and success of the EA-6A program and its companion TERPES is due in large part to the programmatic vision, engineering talents, innovation, and salesmanship skills of those five. They conceived it, programmed it, and sold to DOD in spite of a lot of resistance. Some are still around and deserve the lions share of the credit for the Electric Intruder.
The Corps' tradition for innovation and doing what's right to get the job done resulted in the EA-6A produced by the Grumman Aircraft Corporation in 1965. The EA-6A replaced the EF-10B, a modified version of the Korean vintage F-3D night fighter, which had been introduced into Vietnam on 10 April 1965. In 1959, Grumman had an A-2F in work which later became the A-6A. At the same time, the concept of an A-2FIQ was born. This aircraft later became the EA-6A.
In July 1965, six MARINE EF-10B's supported the first strike against surface-to-air missile sites in history.
The EA-6A was developed exclusively for the Marine Corps, and, when introduced into combat at Da Nang RVN in November 1966, provided the Corps and our country with the only aircraft dedicated to the electronic warfare mission that had sufficient capability to keep up with the changing equipment and tactics of the North Vietnamese air defense system.
Twenty-seven EA-6A's were produced in three lots. The first six beginning with BuNo. 147865 were converted from A-6A fleet bombers. "Methuselah", BuNo 147865, was one of the longest flying "Electric Intruders". The next six (148615) were converted from A-6A airframes while on the production line. The final fifteen (156979-993) were built by Grumman as EA-6A's from the keel up. (Aircraft Bureau Numbers were taken from "Grumman A6 Intruder" by Robert Dorr)
While most of the airframes accumulated relatively little wing-life expenditure, as EA-6A's, the original six received considerable use as A-6A's in the attack role. The three VMCJ squadrons were usually assigned six birds each. The remainder were pipeline aircraft to support maintenance and combat loses.
The conduct of airborne electronic warfare was almost entirely restricted to the air war in North Vietnam. Therefore, the tactics and employment of the EA-6A concentrated on coordinated use of Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) to allow strike forces to penetrate the North Vietnamese air defenses. The absence of an EW threat in South Vietnam was the primary factor, which allowed Marine Corps EA-6A's to support Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps interdiction missions.
Marty Lachow recalls Early Vietnam EA-6A operations as follows. Prior to our arrival 28 September 1966, support to the Navy could only be provided by the EF-10. The EF-10 had 2 small jammers in the nose pointed forward. So whenever offensive tactical ECM support was injected into the plan, all that was done was to point the EF-10 at "whatever" and turn on the jammers. Well, on a previous tour in VMCJ-3, I had spent time reading the books, discovering atmospheric assists, sending aircraft in from different directions and altitudes, employing others as decoys, hiding aircraft within a favorable atmospheric condition and most important, knowing the times, routes, Time Over Targets (ToT) of the attack aircraft we would be supporting. This resulted in good but inadequate support.
We'd only been there less than 2 weeks when Navy tasked the Wing to support an Alpha strike "now that the EA-6 is in country". I, as the EW "Maven", said we could not provide unless Navy could provide us their plans for all a/c consisting of times off the deck, type of aircraft, targets, ToT, Estimated Time of Arrival Feet Dry, etc. This was met with consternation on the part of the Navy. We had to send a few folks out to the big boat to explain. That done, we then devised our tactics plan to support the Alpha strike. Both the EF-10 and the EA-6 were employed.
The Navy for the first time did not lose an aircraft to enemy fire.
A short time later, 2-3 weeks, Navy again requested Alpha strike support. This time the require information was provided with the support request. Again, no aircraft were lost. The EA-6 had proven its touted capability.
VMA 242 would run the Red River nightly and support there required certain tactics. A lot of that became a sort of game. The EA-6s against certain emitters, maintaining a position between various emitters and just out of SAM range. I still have my personal EOB map.
The EA-6A's left Vietnam in July of 1970. But, not so fast, the redeployed again to DaNang RVN 20-23 November 70 supporting the Son Tay Rescue attempt.
The first operational deployment of the EA-6A aboard ship occurred in 1971. VMCJ-2 Detachment Alpha joined CVW-17 in September 1970 to begin work-ups for a Mediterranean deployment aboard U.S.S. Forrestal. Det A, led by Maj. R.C. "Cat" Conway, left the East Coast in January 71' and did not return until December of the same year. At the end of Forrestal's cruise in June 71', the Det cross-decked to U.S.S. Saratoga for back-to-back Med cruises. During the period the Det also operated from U.S.S. America, Soudha Bay AB, and NS Rota (where the IMA was located). So much for a six-month deployment!
This was the first operational deployment of the EA-6A aboard ship; many valuable lessons were learned that made subsequent WestPac EA-6A operations aboard Midway less stressful. One challenge was bringing the aircraft aboard with a typical 4,500+ pound external load (3 ALQ-76 pods, 2 ALE-32 chaff pods, and 2 empty drops) - the crews were always "trick or treat", operating between a max trap of 36,000 pounds and aircraft weight of 34,000 or so pounds. Minimum fuel ops were routine, but I can't remember a low-fuel situation that anyone owned up to the entire cruise(s). I suspect a few fudges were made on the ball call, but sometimes one does what one has to do. Certainly, no one was surprised by the number of times the maintenance troops had to shoot the wings for fuel leaks.
System failures plagued the Det early on when ALQ-86 boxes failed with regularity - the systems were stressed for deceleration on landing but not for acceleration on catapult - as they impaled themselves on the fasteners sticking through the upper equipment shelves. Once that problem was resolved, systems availability was relatively good throughout. The Det completed two Orange Week exercises operating from land with other forces around the Med, including Capt. Al Galotta's VQ-2. One of the more memorable experiences of the cruise was a cat shot in Athens harbor from the crippled, at-anchor Saratoga. Not surprisingly, it was a quiet trip after that to Soudha Bay as the CNI system and other electronic gadgets went south well before the aircraft and crew.
This extended cruise also demonstrated that the EA-6A could be successfully operated for an extended period away from the parent EW systems IMA. While on Saratoga, the Det put together a tactical operational SOP that was the basis for future Electric Intruder and Prowler CV operations. Det Alpha ended a successful, albeit long cruise, with a Navy Unit Commendation and 150 plus traps for most crewmembers.
In April 1972, the EA-6A's of VMCJ-1 were the first Marine Corps aircraft to re-deploy in support of LINEBACKER operations. While the VMCJ-1 birds established an operating base at NAS Cubi Pt RP, a VMCJ-2 detachment under Major Fred Ogline was diverted from a scheduled carrier deployment in the Med and TRANSPACed to NAS Cubi Point. During the April to December 1972 period, a combined Marine Corps unit of VMCJ-1 and VMCJ-2 (CTU 77.0.6), first under the command of Major John D. Carlton and later under Major (later Asst. CMC) Jack Dailey, proved to be a vital if not key part of the LINEBACKER operations. CTU 77.0.6 worked directly for and was fragged by Task Force 77. The unit maintained over a 98% on station support record and had only two supported aircraft lost to enemy action while supporting hundreds of aircraft in the most sophisticated surface-to-air threat environment employed up to that time.
A typical day of operations consisted of a 0300 wake up, followed by briefing, and three aircraft made a pre dawn takeoff from NAS Cubi Point scheduled to arrive at Da Nang shortly after dawn. After landing, a "hot pit" and crew switch was made. A VMGR-152 KC-130 was assigned to the unit, and took off prior to the EA-6A's with spare "black boxes" and ground maintenance personnel. Two EA-6A's then took off for one of three pre-designated operating areas off the coast of NVN. After checking in with Red Crown using the secure KY-28 for changes to the frag or "mission adjustments", the two EA-6A's switched to a "strike" radio frequency, checked in with and monitored the inbound strike aircraft, and established a moving "racetrack" orbit to best support both the ingress and egress of the strike aircraft to the target. The EA-6A's remained on station until "feet wet" by all strike aircraft and then either returned to Da Nang for a crew change or "tanked" off Navy A-3's or, if a "long pump" was needed, off the organic KC-130 which flew north off the coast to "just short" of the DMZ.
Sometimes, when time was critical, "just short" became "a little long". After landing at Da Nang, another "hot pit", "maintenance scramble", and crew change was made for an afternoon on station by the morning fly over crew who had grabbed a few hours sleep, something to eat, and checked the latest intell for new FLATFACE, FIRECAN, and FANSONG info. The afternoon sortie was similar to the morning's go. Again, the aircraft "hot pitted" and changed crews and all three aircraft took off for NAS Cubi Pt. Arrival at Cubi was usually about 2000 with an TACAN IFR approach through the duty thunderstorm to a GCA final.
The morning's flyover and afternoon sortie crew RONed at the sumptuous Navy VQ-1quarters and partook of libations at the "Red Dog Saloon". The returning crew had the next day "off" to perform the inevitable test flights, paperwork, and mission planning. The three-day cycle worked well. Most of us never had to buy a drink when the carriers came into port. We ran this NAS Cubi based operation because the security of Da Nang was in doubt so the "800 pound Gorillas" didn't want to let us play in that sand box overnight. We cheated with the "RON crews".
Following final withdrawal from RVN, EA-6A's supported Navy carrier EW requirements in WESTPAC. First with deployments from VMCJ-1 out of MCAS Iwakuni Japan. In the Mid 70's the VMCJ's were reorganized into VMFP-3 based at El Toro, CA with all of the RF-4B's and VMAQ-2 based at Cherry Point, NC with all of the EA-6A's. VMAQ-2 maintained a three detachment capability and continued to support the First Marine Aircraft Wing and the Japan based USS MIDWAY carrier EW requirements with six-month detachments, which were "available for Marine use", when the carrier was in port. Seven consecutive six month "or so" detachments were provided by VMAQ-2 in support of WESTPAC operations.
In December 1978, the first VMAQ-2 EA-6B's, Det XRAY, deployed to WESTPAC under the command of Major John D. Weber to relieve the last of the WESTPAC EA-6A's, Det ALPHA Cubed, under the command of Major John D. Weides. EA-6A's continued to operate at VMAQ-2 at Cherry point until total conversion to EA-6B's.
Following active service with the Marine Corps, EA-6A's were operated not only by the Marine Reserve squadron, VMAQ-4, but also with Navy Reserve squadrons, VAQ-209 and VAQ-309, and with VAQ-33 in Key West. VMAQ-4 was formed at NAS Whidbey WA to take advantage of co-location of IMA maintenance facilities with the West Coast Navy reserve EA-6A Squadron. VMAQ-4 traded in their Electric Intruders for EA-6B Prowlers in 1990 and deployed to MCAS Iwakuni, spelling VMAQ-2 in the 1st MAW rotation. This freed aircrew and flying machines for the Desert Storm evolution. Following return from WestPac, VMAQ-4 was redesignated an active duty squadron and moved to MCAS Cherry Point and 2nd MAW when VMAQ-2 was restructured into a multi-squadron configuration. One EA-6A is stored at MCAS Cherry Point, awaiting a new paint job and future glory in a museum. Most Electric Intruders ended their days in the desert at Davis-Monthan, along with other historic veterans of aviation before INS, APCS, P-408 engines, fuselage speed brakes, computerized EW systems, and all the other goodies that made life a lot easier and safer on dark nights over Nam or the blunt end of the boat.
Remarkably few EA-6A's were lost - just three in fact. Dave Leet and John M. Christensen were a combat loss in April of 72' in the initial few sorties supporting LINEBACKER. We don't know exactly why they went down but assume that a SAM got them as they were returning from station off Hanoi in the early morning darkness.
Another was lost when Hal "Weird" Baker and Fred "Killer" Killerbrew ejected due to fire (Bleed Air Duct Failure?) in the vicinity of Cubi Point. Killer was over 50 at the time and is the oldest one I know of to make a "Nylon Letdown" from an EA-6A.
The third EA-6A loss was in October 1973 ( 22nd ?) off coast of Okinawa while VMCJ-1 Det 101 was working up for a carrier deployment on the USS Midway. The Mishap A/C was flown by Lt Jot Eve and the right seater was Lt Dave Moody. They impacted water on initial night qual 11 miles aft of ship - NORDO / NONAV- on the wing of an A-7 driver who had heard the EA-6A radio transmissions, realized the situation, found them, and took them on his wing for the approach back to ship. They shot a teardrop pattern directly over the carrier and had turned inbound to the ship on ships course. The A-7and pilot were lost that night at same instant. No ejections or radio transmissions. We assume they flew into water and / or collided and flew into the water at about the time they would have slowed for flaps / slats /gear. The A-7 has a much different speed brake and I think the aysmetircal differences between the two dirty A/C was the problem. The H-3 "Angel" launched forward of the island. This was against NATOPS as you have no point of reference in dark. They launched at high power to replace the low fuel plane guard on station and went straight into the water. Three of Four crew lost. They didn't take time to respot as they wanted to get on scene as soon as possible. The other H-3 had an oil slick in water.
Hugh Carter was on flight schedule and should have been in that plane with Jot. He had flown with him earlier that day for his initial day qual on Midway. During that flight, they had also gone NORDO /NONAV in same A/C, but as it was day VFR they recovered on wing of A-6 tanker they had just topped off from with without incident. Later that day at time of brief for JOT's night qual Bob Cave and Hugh Carter were briefing ADM MacDonald in War Room on upcoming Gulf of Tonkin OPS. Dave, who had flown with Jot quite a bit at Cherry Point, jumped into death sled with Jot. Not a good night.....3 A/C and six men lost that night.
That operational and safety record is a fitting tribute to this gallant old bird and the hearty aircrew that flew them.
That's as we remember it! Of course we're probably wrong, so let's hear from the rest of you so we can correct this!
David L. Montigny reports the loss of an additional EA-6A that was serving with VAQ-33 in 1990 or 1991 over the Atlantic off of Jacksonville FL after all the EA-6A's were retired from the active Marine Corps.