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MCARA Aircraft > Grumman EA-6A Intruder - History

The Electronic Warfare version of the A2F-1 (later A-6A) was the A2F-1H or Q depending on source information. The aircraft was ordered through a contract with Grumman in March of 1962 in response to Marine Corps requirements to replace the aging F3D-2Q Skyknights. It was redesignated the EA-6A in September 1962. Prior to the contract award Grumman had completed preliminary design studies in 1960-61 that described the required modifications to the A2F-1 Intruder to support the intended role of a dedicated Electronic Warfare aircraft.

Two A-6As were modified as prototypes by Grumman, the first was BuNo 147865, the second A2F-1 used as the aerodynamic prototype for the H/Q version. This aircraft, nicknamed “Methuselah” and carrying the VMAQ-2 side number 00, is preserved near the flight line at MCAS Cherry Point. The second prototype, converted A-6A BuNo 148618, the primary electronic testbed, first flew on 26 April 1963 and was later delivered to NATC PAXRIV for flight testing in March 1965. Subsequently, four more A-6A aircraft were modified for delivery, plus one prototype, BuNo 149935, retained by Grumman as a NEA-6A and later used in the EA-6B development. A new lot of six beginning with BuNo 151595 were then built on the A-6A assembly line to round out the first 12 aircraft delivered under the initial contract. BuNo 149477 was the first production aircraft delivered to VMCJ-2 on 14 November 1965 although 3 others were delivered to the Navy for earlier BIS trials. (BuNos 149475,151595, 151596).

Unlike later generation A-6s the EA-6A retained the fuselage speedbrakes. The “football” appendage on the tail fin cap housing EW antennae was the most noticeable structural change although the EA version also had outer wing storage stations (A&B) in addition to the centerline and 4 wing stations of the A-6A. These outer wing stations (beyond the wing fold) were used to carry the low band receiver pods that were part of the initial AN/ALQ-53 EW receiving system, and later on ALE-32 or ALE-41 chaff dispensing pods or the AGM-45 Shrike missile. An eight inch plug was inserted into the forward fuselage to add room for additional electronic equipment. The ALR-15 multi-band threat warning system and AN/ALQ-41 AI Deception Repeater Jammer was carried forward from the A2F-1 design. Unfortunately, the highly accurate inertial navigation system (CAINS) from the A2F-1 was traded off leaving a navigation computer (ASN-66) and navigation only radar. (APQ-103).

The first operational aircraft delivered to VMCJ-2 in Cherry Pt. in November and December of 1965 suffice to say from most accounts had major reliability and operability problems with the ALQ-53 which was an adaptation of a ground based EW system. As a result NAVAIRSYSCOM brought in a Syracuse University lab to redesign the ALQ-53 on a quick reaction basis given the urgent need to support the planned deployment of the aircraft to Vietnam. That effort resulted in several modifications to the systems that were already delivered to the squadron and led to a production contract with Bunker Ramo Inc. for what was then designated the An/ALQ-86 receiving system. Although initial production deliveries were not to come until late 1967, some of the modifications to include removal of the low band pods were completed on the VMCJ-2 flight line by a contractor and Marine avionics team. Similarly, the EA-6A’s new radar jamming system the AN/ALQ-76 was also behind in schedule so the vintage ALQ-31B pods with lower powered ALT-6B noise jammers were used to outfit the aircraft being readied to deploy in the Fall of 1966.

The first operational deployment of the EA-6As was not until late October 1966 when six aircraft and an aircrew/maintenance cadre from VMCJ-2 joined VMCJ-1 at Danang RVN. (Bunos included 149478,151600,149475,151598,151597,147865) These aircraft were configured with the modified ALQ-53 receiving system and ALQ-31 pods with ALT-6B jammers. Despite the limitations of this initial EW suite, the EA-6As with their well trained aircrews proved far superior to the old EF-10Bs. They were able to provide highly effective ECM support for large Navy Alpha strikes and provided one on one support for numerous USMC A-6A aircraft on night strikes deep inside of the formidable NVN air defenses employing modified escort tactics.

Over significant objections from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the HQMC was able to push through a follow on production program that added another 15 aircraft to the inventory with deliveries beginning in December 1968 through November 1969. (A gap of nearly 3 years in deliveries).These aircraft would be delivered with the new fully integrated ALQ-86 Receiving and ALQ-76 ECM systems and ALE-32 chaff pods. With the introduction of the ALQ-76 system the aircraft could carry 20 high powered noise jammers in 5 pods with steerable antennas making it the most advanced EW aircraft in the world.

Prior to the arrival of the new production aircraft, the new EW suite was integrated into the earlier airframes on a quick reaction basis supported by the Marines at VMCJ-2. The first of these aircraft with the integrated ALQ-76/86 systems entered combat service with VMCJ-1 in February 1968 at Danang RVN, ironically the same month that the first EF-10B Super Whales with updated COM/NAV and ECM systems arrived. These new aircraft soon proved their worth in supporting all air operations over NVN including the SAC reconnaissance drones. ( The USAF documented the value of the ECM support provided to their drones by VMCJ-1 EA-6As in 1968 with special analysis report).

In addition to the Grumman, the prime aircraft contractor, the EA-6A aircraft and systems was fully supported by the Naval Air Systems Command and its RDT& E centers at Paxtuent River, Maryland, and Pt. Mugu, California, all of whom had experienced Marine Officers and Staff NCOs on staff that knew the mission and worked hand in hand with the civilian engineers.

From the inception of the program, VMCJ-2 and later its successor squadron VMAQ-2 was the NATOPS lead for the EA-6A and provided the training base for aircrews and ECM technicians that deployed to WESTPAC as well as maintaining a full operational ready capability in CONUS. As part of a rigorous and realistic training program, VMCJ-2 periodically deployed EA-6A aircraft to NAS Key West for missions along the periphery of Cuba that gained invaluable exposure to Soviet manufactured radar systems. This was a continuation of a Cold War effort that started with EF-10Bs before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. These missions sometimes caused a hostile reaction by the Cuban Air Force’s Soviet built Migs, perhaps the most notable in late April 1970 when a flight of Mig 21s attempted to intercept an EA-6A and in the process penetrated the US ADIZ within sight of Key West.

In June 1970 with the phase down of the US forces in Vietnam, VMCJ-1’s EA-6As were withdrawn to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan and soon became actively engaged in supporting US and allied air defense exercises in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Additionally, VMCJ-1 initiated CINCPAC sanctioned Beaver Hound ESM training missions along the Korean DMZ and in other areas along the Northern Pacific periphery similar to the EF-10B Shark Fin missions in the 1960s. In November, 1970 a VMCJ-1 EA-6A detachment executed an emergency redeployment to Danang, RVN on the eve of the ill fated Son Tay prison raid to support Navy deception operations and a follow-on protective reaction strike the next day.

In February, 1971 a detachment of VMCJ-1’s EA-6As deployed over 2000 miles from Iwakuni to HMAS Norwa, a Royal Australia Navy airfield South of Sidney to support an Australian navy anti-air warfare exercise off the East coast. This marked the first deployment of Marine fixed-wing aircraft to Australia since WW II. The EA-6A’s aerial refueled over Okinawa enroute to Mactan, a military airfield in the Southern Philippines which was about 1300 miles North of Darwin, the second stop enroute.
From Darwin on the Northwest coast, the aircraft and their supporting C-130 deviated from the deployment plan do to a typhoon, and made a refueling stop at Mt. Isa , a mining town in the Outback before continuing on the HMAS Norwa.

Immediately after the Australia detachment arrived back in Iwakuni, COM 7Th Fleet ordered a contingency deployment of 4 aircraft back to Danang for about 5 days to support newly authorized TF-77 protective reaction strikes in NVN. Yet another of these short combat deployments was supported in the April-May 1971 timeframe.

Meanwhile back in CONUS VMCJ-2 was not only supporting the WESTPAC rotations but was tasked to provide a detachment of EA-6As for a first ever CV deployment to the Mediterranean. Workups began in September 1970 with CVW-17 and the detachment deployed aboard the USS Forrestal in January 1971 for a six month cruise that turned into nearly a year as the EA-6As cross decked to the USS Saratoga before completing its tour in December. While in the Mediterranean the det also cross decked to the USS America and operated out of Soudha Bay and Rota Spain. This first operational deployment aboard ship resulted in many valuable lessons learned that later proved crucial to sustained operations by VMCJ-1 and later VMAQ-2 dets aboard the USS Midway.

Back in the Pacific, the initiation of operation Linebacker I against NVN resulted in the redeployment of VMCJ-1’s EA-6As to NAS Cubi Pt in April 1972 for what turned into the most demanding operational scenario of the Vietnam War. VMCJ-1 was augmented by a VMCJ-2 EA-6A detachment diverted from a scheduled carrier cruise in the Med. Together the new unit formed CTU 77.06 which was to provide sustained support to TF-77 air operations for Linebacker I & II which ended with the 1972 Christmas B-52 strikes against Hanoi-Haiphong targets. The EA-6As provided near continuous ECM support in the Gulf of Tonkin by aerial refueling and daily cycling of aircraft and crews through Danang. The unit maintained a 98% on station support record and only had two supported aircraft lost to enemy action in what was the most sophisticated surface-to-air threat environment ever seen up to that time.

Two EA-6As were lost during this deployment. The first was a combat loss near the NVN coast to unknown causes in April 1972 shortly after initiation of Linebacker I operations which resulted in loss of the crew.. The second was an accident near NAS Cubi Pt. in late December 1972 due to a bleed air duct failure, with the crew successfully ejecting and recovered. Meanwhile back at Cherry Pt. on 25 May 1972 another EA-6A was lost near Cherry Pt with the crew (1/lts Buchanan and Pitz) recovered.

In October 1973, VMCJ-1 was tasked to assume the primary ECM support mission for the USS Midway (CV-41) which was home ported in Japan. This commitment was maintained by VMCJ-1 until August 1975 when the squadron was stood down. Afterwards the CV-41 mission was assumed by a rotating detachment from the newly formed VMAQ-2 squadron which replaced VMCJ-2 at MCAS Cherry Pt. The last USMC EA-6A loss occurred in October 1973 during night CQs off Okinawa with both crewmembers perishing.

With the end of the U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam came a redistribution of the EA-6A aircraft and systems amongst the three VMCJ squadrons. This improved the readiness of VMCJ-3’s EA-6As based at MCAS El Toro California, the last squadron to receive the aircraft. (1970)

Picking back up on the CV deployments to the European theater, VMCJ-2 provided a detachment under Maj. Royal Moore for the USS America’s mini-cruise to the UK for NATO exercise Northern Merger in September – October 1974.

In the Spring of 1975 VMCJ-1’s Midway detachment under Maj. Marty Brush was called in to support the emergency evacuation of Saigon under Operation Frequent Wind. The detachment’s aircraft were off loaded to NAS Cubi Pt. to make room for evacuation helicopters. On 21 April the squadron was tasked to send a two plane detachment to the USS Coral Sea to provide threat warning and ECM support for the massive airlift operation. With intelligence reporting that the NVN had moved SA-2 SAMS and radar controlled AAA into the area there were serious concerns that they might break an informal agreement to not oppose U.S. evacuation aircraft. The EA-6A detachment provided near continuous monitoring of the threat air defense radars over a 7 day period. Late on the night of 29-30 April, Capts. B.K. Larson and Kenny Watts flying BuNo 156989 flew what likely was the last combat support mission by a U.S. aircraft over Vietnam before returning to the Coral Sea after receiving word the evacuation operation was over.

VMCJ-2 and VMCJ-3 were decommissioned on 15 August 1975 and their EA-6As consolidated under a new squadron, VMAQ-2, at MCAS Cherry Pt. North Carolina.
In mid September 1975 at MCAS Iwakuni Japan, VMCJ-1 stood down and Lt. Col. Art Bloomer, the last commanding officer, led a TRANSPAC of the last four EA-6As with VMCJ-1’s RM tail code back to VMAQ-2 at MCAS Cherry Pt.

After the end of the Vietnam war the focus of U.S. military operations in the Cold War turned again to the European theater and the EA-6A aircraft came in demand to support major NATO exercises. The first landbased deployment of the EA-6As to Europe came in September-October 1976 when a VMAQ-2 detachment under Maj. Marty Brush, deployed to Orland AB, Norway and later Vandel AB in Denmark in support of exercise Team Work/Bonded Item 76. In the Fall of 1977 another VMAQ-2 detachment under Maj. Jay Weides supported a NATO southern flank exercise from Izmir AB Turkey. With the transition to the EA-6B under way, the final deployment of EA-6As to Europe was in the Fall of 1978 under Maj. Jack Norton, again to Vandel AB, Denmark.

In the Summer of 1977 VMAQ-2 Detachment B under Maj. Marty Brush deployed aboard the USS Coral Sea which was on station in WESTPAC covering the USS Midway’s yard period. The detachment cross decked back to the USS Midway in November to support its first deployment to the Indian Ocean near the coast of Iran, with port calls in Perth, Australia and Singapore enroute back to its home port in January 1978. With this deployment the EA-6As had truly been deployed worldwide!



The final deployment of a VMAQ-2 EA-6A detachment to the USS Midway was from July to December 1978 under Maj. Jay Weides before the commitment was assumed by the EA-6Bs.

In 15 years of service with four active duty squadrons and numerous CV and land-based detachments deployed worldwide in support of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, the EA-6As established a legacy unparalleled in the history of electronic warfare aircraft. That legacy was extended by another 13 years of service after its transition to the Navy and Marine Corps reserves (VAQ-209, VAQ-309, VMAQ-4) and VAQ-33, a fleet EW support squadron.

The first Navy Reserve EA-6A squadron (VAQ-209) stood up in the Fall of 1977 at NAS Norfolk followed by VAQ-309 at NAS Whidbey Island. VMAQ-4, the first USMC reserve EW squadron was commissioned in November 1981 at NAS Whidbey Island with the RM tail code from the old VMCJ-1. It operated under MAG-42 Det Charlie with EA-6As until 1990 when it transitioned to the EA-6Bs. The last of the EA-6As were retired from VAQ-33 home based at Key West in 1993. BuNo 147865 was flown back to MCAS Cherry Pt by Lcdr. Looney of VAQ-33 where it remains today as a static display.

Capt. Joey RohletterIn 1984 the reserve aircraft were finally cleared to launch the Shrike anti-radiation missile from the outboard stations. The first Shrike launch for VMAQ-4 came at China Lake by two VMAQ-4 aircraft. BuNo 151600 crewed by Capt. Joey Rohletter and Capt. Jim Grimshaw fired the first missile followed by Maj. Paul Barlock and MAG-42 Det C CO Lt. Col. Dave Weber on 17 August 1985. The last major modification of the EA-6A aircraft and weapon systems occurred during the 1987-89 timeframe under the RECAP program. A much need navigation radar, Loran navigation system and upgrades to the ALQ-76 and 86 ECM systems along with improved DECM suite was included in this modification program.


(Write up by Col. H. Wayne Whitten USMC (ret) February 2010)



1. 147865 Second A2-F1 later (YA-6A) prototype built. This aircraft was then used as the A2-F1Q (EA-6A) aerodynamic prototype, first flew as an A2F-1 on 28 July 60,, among first six deployed to Danang RVN Oct. 66, on Forrestal carquals 3 Oct 70, on Northern NATO EX in 78. Last unit was VAQ-33 where LCDR John Looney flew last flight from Key West into NKT in 1993? Nicknamed “Methuselah” with CY side No. “00” it is preserved as a static display at MCAS Cherry Pt.
2. 148616 Converted A-6A, delivered 22 Dec 65, in 1st Vietnam det. Stored at AMARC (Davis-Monthan) since July 1976.
3. 148618 Converted A-6A was EA-6A electronic prototype, first flight 26 April 1962. Delivered to PAXRIV for tests in April 1965. Was on USS America min-med cruise 6 Sep-22 Oct 74. On Northern NATO ex 78, Retired from VAQ-33 and is on static display at NAS Key West.
4. 149475 Converted A-6A. In BIS trials Aug 65. In 1st Vietnam det. A RECAP
aircraft in MAG-42 Det C/VMAQ-4 in 1987-89. Last unit VAQ-33. Used as target or training aid at Hardwood Weapons Range, Volk Field, WI.
5. 149477 Converted A-6A, First acft delivered to VMCJ-2 14 Nov 65, Lost engine bay door in flight in 1978, struck at NKT in 1980 and used as a target at a bombing range in eastern North Carolina.
6. 149478 Converted A-6A. In 1st Vietnam det. Stored at AMARC starting August 1976 then disposed of by 1995? Final disposition or use unknown.
7. 151595 First of six production acft. In BIS Aug 65. Lost near NKT 27 May 72. due to fuel malfunction, 1/Lts Buchanan and Pitz ejected safely.
8. 151596 To PAXRIV for BIS trials in Oct 65. Final use or disposition unknown. Last status in system August 1988 with VAQ-209.
9. 151597 Delivered 18 Dec 65 to VMCJ-2. In Vietnam Jan 67. First Cat/trap on Forrestal 3 Oct 70. (Conway/Weber) ,on Northern NATO ex 78, in MAG-42 Det. C/VMAQ-4 in 87-89, Retired by VAQ-33 in 93. Used as target or training aid at Hardwood Weapons Range, Volk Field, WI.
10. 151598 Delivered 3 Feb 66. 1st Vietnam det. Last unit VAQ-33. Stored at AMARC starting July 1993.
11. 151599 Delivered to VMCJ-2 Jan 67. RECAP acft inMAG-42 DetC/VMAQ-4 87-89. Last unit VAQ-33. Stored at AMARC starting July 1993.
12. 151600 Last of lot delivered to VMCJ-2 on 3 Jun66. Last of 1st Vietnam det to arrive at Danang due to mechanical problems on TRANSPAC. (Goodman/Miner) RECAP acft in MAG-42 Det. C/VMAQ-4 87-89. Stored at AMARC starting July 1976 then returned to service. Last unit VAQ-33. Last status February 1992. Final disposition or use unknown.
13. 156979 1st of second lot production with ALQ-86/76 systems. Delivered 18 Dec 1968, In VMCJ-1 at Cubi for Linebacker I. 1st Combat loss on 12 Apr 1972 NVN, Capt. Leet and 1/Lt. Christansen KIAs.
14. 156980 In VMCJ-1 at Cubi for Linebacker Ops. Lost in night accident off USS Midway 22 October 1973 along with crew (Eve/Moody)
15. 156981 Delivered 23 Apr 69 to VMCJ-2. Last status in system August 1989 with VAQ-309. Final disposition or use unknown.
16. 156982 W/Det A on USS Forrestal deployment 1971, W/ VMCJ-2 Det Cubi in 72 for Linebacker I & II. Damaged by C-39 on flightline, Lost to bleed air problem over Subic Bay on departure to Danang. Capt. Baker and Msgt. Killerbrew safely ejected & recovered. Last U.S. fixed wing aircraft lost during Vietnam War.
17. 156983 Last unit VAQ-33. Stored at AMARC starting July 1993.
18. 156984 In VMCJ-1 70-73. Deployed from IWA to Danang 20 Nov 70 to support Son Tay raid and follow on NVN strikes. (Cardwell/Miner) In VMCJ-1 Cubi for Linebacker support. Last of VMCJ-1 RM acft transpac to NKT by LtCol Bloomer Aug 75, Was prototype for RECAP mod program for reserves. Last unit VAQ-33. Had been slated to be used as target or training aid at Hardwood Weapons Range, Volk Field, WI. but somehow ended up on static display/in restoration At Warner Museum of Aviation, Souix City, Iowa!
19. 156985 In VMCJ-1 70-71. One of 3 on Australia det 18 Feb-5Mar 71. Last status in system August 1988 with VAQ-209. . Final disposition or use unknown.
20. 156986 In VMCJ-1 70-71. On Son Tay raid support msn 20-21 Nov 70. (Ringo/Metrock) On Australia det. ,VMCJ-2 Det Cubi in 1972., Last status in system August 1988 with VAQ-209(?). RECAP acft in MAG-42 Det. C/VMAQ-4 in 87-89. Final disposition or use unknown.
21. 156987 In VMCJ-1 at Cubi for Linebacker in 1972., RECAP acft in MAG-42 DET. C/VMAQ-4 87-89. Last unit VAQ-33. Stored at AMARC starting July 1993.
22. 156988 In VMCJ-1 70-73. On Australia det. and with VMCJ-1 at Cubi for Linebacker ops in 72. Lost by VAQ-33 Feb 91 crew recovered.
23. 156989 Last combat msn over Vietnam on night of 29-30 Apr 75 from USS Coral Sea from VMCJ-1 for Saigon evac (Larson/Watts) One of last 4 VMCJ-1 acft transpac back to NKT in Aug 75 with RM tailcode. (Sites/Deaton). . Last status in system February 1989 with VAQ-309. Final disposition or use unknown.
24. 156990 VMCJ-2 Det Cubi in 1972. Last status in system September 1991 with VAQ-33. Final disposition or use unknown.
25. 156991 W/Det A on USS Forrestal Med Cruise in 71 . Last status in system November 1988 with VAQ-309. Final disposition or use unknown.
26. 156992 W/Det A on USS Forrestal in 71,VMCJ-2 Det Cubi in 1972., One of last
4 VMCJ-1 acft transpac back to NKT in Aug 75 with RM tailcode. (Brush/Fertig). Last status in system March 2007 at “Key West.” Final use or disposition unknown.
27. 156993 Last aircraft delivered 25 Nov 1969. W/Det A on USS Forrestal in 71. Last status in system October 1991 with VAQ-33. Final use or disposition unknown.

Historical Footnote
There was a “28th” EA-6A airframe: BUNO 149935. This aircraft/airframe was never in the operating forces. It only ever used for testing as a YEA-6A/NEA-6A. Last status of May 2009 notes it was a “Strike/Admin” with “0” hours at NATC (Pax River).

April 66 First to Key West & various Carib bases (Murphree J-2 Car Pix on arrival back at NKT)
Oct 66 First 6 acft from J-2 to Danang joining VMCJ-1 (Dinnage)
Nov 70 Son Tay Raid & Follow-on Strike Danang from IWA (Cardwell/Miner)
Dec 70 J-1 Det to Tainan Taiwan for TDC EX Eagle
Jan –Oct 71 J-2 USS Forrestal to Med (Conway/Weber) w/X decking to Sara and America
Feb-Mar 71 VMCJ-1 To HMAS Albatross (Nowra Australia) (Smith/Peron)
Mar-Apr 71 To Danang spt strikes by TF-77 (Houseman) w/Metrock as Wing EWO rep
Apr 72 To Cubi for Linebacker I & II J-1 (Carleton/Dailey/Weides)
Apr 72 J-2 Det to Cubi for Linebacker I &II (Ogline/Lorch)/
Oct 73 J-1 101 det to USS Midway (Morley)

Sep-Oct 74 J-2 Det USS America to UK for Northern Merger (Moore/Doyle)
21 -30 Apr 75 Last J-1 Det for Vietnam msn in support of Saigon Evac (Frequent Wind) from USS Coral Sea
Aug 75 1st VMAQ-2 Det to IWA/Midway (Plunkett)
Sep-Oct 76 Teamwork /Bonded Item Orland Norway, Vandel Denmark (Brush)
Sep 77 J-2 Turkey Det Izmir/Eskisehir(Weides)
Jul 77-Jan76 VMAQ-2 Det B2 IO cruise with X decking from Coral Sea to Midway for IO cruise (Brush/Yahner)
July –Dec 78 Last det to Midway (Weides)
September 78 J-2 Det to Vandel Denmark for Northern Wedding/Bold Guard Nato EX (Norton)