US Navy, EA-6B Prowler in flight
The EA-6B Prowler is a twin-engine, mid-wing electronic warfare aircraft manufactured by Grumman (now Northrop Grumman) as a modification of the basic A-6 Intruder airframe.
The EA-6A "Electric Intruder" was developed for the United States Marine Corps in the 1960s to replace the EF-10B Skyknight. It was a direct conversion of the standard two-seat A-6 Intruder airframe fitted with electronic warfare (EW) equipment. The EA-6A was used by three USMC squadrons during the Vietnam War. A total of 27 were built with 15 of those being new builds. Most were retired in the 1970s with the last few retiring in the 1990s. The EA-6A was essentially an interim aircraft.
The two-seat EA-6A would be followed by the more advanced four-seat EA-6B Prowler.The much more advanced and substantially redesigned EA-6B was developed beginning in 1966 as a replacement for EKA-3B Skywarriors for the United States Navy. The forward fuselage was lengthened for a larger four-seat cockpit and the antenna fairing added to the tip of the vertical stabilizer. The Prowler first flew on 25 May 1968 and entered service in July 1971. Three prototype EA-6Bs were converted from A-6As and five EA-6Bs were development airframes. A total of 170 EA-6B production aircraft were built through 1991.
The Prowler is powered by two non-afterburning jet engines and is capable of high subsonic speeds. Due to demanding EW operations and age, the Prowler is a high-maintenance aircraft and also undergoes more frequent equipment upgrades than any other aircraft in the Navy. Although designed as an electronic escort and command and control platform for strike missions, the EA-6B is also capable of attacking surface targets on its own, especially radar antennae, surface-to-air missile launchers, and other enemy defenses. In addition, the aircraft is highly capable of gathering electronic intelligence.
The EA-6B Prowler has been continually upgraded over the years. The first was which was named "expanded capability" (EXCAP) beginning in 1973. Then came "improved capability" (ICAP) in 1976 and ICAP II in 1980. ICAP II provided the capability to fire AGM-88 HARM missiles.
Northrop Grumman received contracts from the US Navy to deliver new electronic countermeasures gear to Prowler squadrons; the heart of each ICAP III set consists of the ALQ-218 receiver and new software that provides more precise selective-reactive radar jamming and deception and threat location. The ICAP III sets also are equipped with the Multifunction Information Distribution System (MIDS), which includes the Link 16 data link system. Northrop has delivered two lots and will be delivering two more beginning in 2010. The majority of Prowlers in service today are the ICAP II variant, carrying the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System.