January 27, 2015: Strategy Page
In 2014 American EA-6B (“Prowler”) electronic warfare aircraft returned to Iraq after a three year absence. The EA-6B were needed to jam the communications of Islamic terrorists (ISIL) who began overrunning Iraq in 2014. These EA-6Bs operate from a land base. EA-6Bs were to be withdrawn from U.S. Navy service in 2015 but the marines are keeping theirs until 2019 and these are now based in Kuwait to help deal with ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Marine Corps has long had its own air force that operates mostly from land bases, as well as carriers. Marine aviation always included some EA-6Bs.
It was back in 2006 the U.S. Navy and Marines began stationing some of its EA-6B in Iraq, in order to use the extensive jamming and signal monitoring gear on these planes to track enemy activity and help defeat roadside bombs. Depending on how many carriers were in the area there could be up to half dozen EA-6Bs in the air over Iraq at one time. The EA-6B jammers could be used to jam cell phones and other wireless devices, thus their usefulness in neutralizing roadside bombs.
After September 11, 2001 EA-6Bs proved useful for all sorts of electronic warfare against the Islamic terrorists. For example, the aircraft use their USQ-113 communications jammers to take control of terrorist communications. Department of Defense electronics warfare geeks found ways to use the jammer to do all sorts of things with radio, TV and cell phone signals. Working with psychological warfare and intelligence experts, the EA-6Bs have become key players in counter-terror operations. There was also a version of the USQ-113 that can be plugged into communications and sensor networks, making it easier to use the EA-6Bs in support of ground combat. Another useful feature of the ALQ-219 pod allowed the EA-6B to jam a small area (a single building or block). That was useful because sometimes the barrage (wide area) jamming also interfered with friendly communications. Although the EA-6B is being replaced, many of its electronic tools (hardware and software) will continue serving in the new EA-18G and other electronic warfare aircraft.
The 27 ton EA-6Bs has long been scheduled to finally retire in 2015 (they entered service in 1971) and have been replaced by the 29 ton EA-18G. The EA-6B carries a crew of four, the highly automated EA-18G will have only two people on board. The marines are not buying the EA-18G but are instead equipping F-35s or UAVs for electronic warfare work.