04 July 2008

History of the Navy's EW Mission Part 2

Okay when school was in session we started to talk about the history of the Electronic warfare mission and some of the aircraft that were being used by the carrier air wings. Now lets finish up.

When the AD-4 Skyraider was accepted into fleet in 1950 the number of specialized versions that were being used by the Navy at the time were converted from AD-3 airframes were numerous. To standardized across the fleet most of the AD-3's were started to be phased out and replaced by AD-4 Skyraiders. The AD-4 became the most numerous example of the Skyraider used in the fleet. Just like with the AD-3, the Navy asked for a Q-bird in the AD-4, again the ECM operator was stuffed in the back with all the gear. To get in they had a small door on the left hand side of the aircraft and only two small little windows where the enlisted air crew men could look out to see the sights.
"Enlisted Aircrew?" you ask. Yes dear readers, before the decision to make more jobs with college graduates that got wings of gold pinned on them. Naval Air crewmen usually in the avionics field were flying in some of these aircraft to do such things as operate the anti-submarine gear, ECM gear, and there were radar operators in both the AD-4W AEW version (yes SJS, us enlisted folks were doing the radar operator/airborne intercept controller until the mid-60s) and the AD-4N's had radar bombardiers/navigators. So with the AD-4Q had enlisted ECM operators sitting there in the back tweaking knobs trying to tun in the signals from the bad guys and send out signals from the aircraft.

Following the end of the Korean War there was a need to upgrade aircraft because there was a need for heavier and more complex jamming equipment. The end of the war also saw the Composite squadrons get out of the Jamming role and concentrate more on the night time/all weather bombing operations. With that change most of the Q-birds went to the VAW-11 and VAW-12. Things were good though very complex. At the time VAW-11 and VAW-12 were the largest squadrons in the Navy. Primarily because they operated the AEW (airborne early warning) mission so they had dets of up to four aircraft joining up with each of the deploying carrier air wings to provide that early warning which the Navy found was valuable. So with the introduction of the AD-5Q a Skyraider that had its fuselage stretched to accommodate two ECM operators in a full size aft cockpit rather then a broom closet set up in the fuselage.
With the arrival of the AD-5Q the US Navy saw an airplane which had the room for expansion as additional and improve ECM gear came down the pipeline. They also saw an airplane that had a great loiter time and could effectively fly the maneuvers which were required to provide the jamming which could open up the defense so the strike package get in. With the AD-5Q also saw more room for the various antenna which were required for the job. As the AD-5Q came out the other problem saw the need for another squadron to provide room for various officers to rise up in the Department head and Commanding officer billets. Along with reduce the paperwork requirements for tracking all the various dets that VAW-11 and VAW-12 was providing. So in 1959 the Department of the Navy took a det from VAW-11 and created Carrier Airborne Early Warning Thirteen (VAW-13) at NAS Agana Guam. VAW-13 was using both the AD-5W's and the AD-5Q's and the det it was supplying to the squadrons were putting both types of airframes on the carrier decks. Also the Squadron was assigned the "Victor Robert" Tail Code. The squadron also called themselves the "Zappers" because they were zapping out electrical energy. Things were good for Early Thirteen until 1961. Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific (aka AirPac) decided to shuffle things up. VAW-11 was subdivided into smaller tactical units and VAW-13 lost the Guppy version of the Skyraider. VAW-13 was told to concentrate only on the ECM mission, VAW-13 was also recalled to NAS Alameda (which is just across the bay from San Francisco). So in 1961 they packed up their things and went back to the good ol'USA. On the Atlantic side VC-33 which became VA(AW)-33 picked up flying the AD-5Q's for the Atlantic deploying air wings and carriers.
Meanwhile the USMC while they had been using all the various "Q" versions of the Skyraider in their Composite squadrons said "thanks but no, thanks" to the AD-5Q and instead took a number of F3D-2 Skyknights and modified them into F3D-2Q ECM birds. Their thinking was they needed an aircraft that could keep up with the faster jets they had in their inventory. Along with being a larger and more powerful aircraft they could carry more ECM gear. These aircraft were still assigned to the Marine Composite squadrons (VMC) and these squadrons were later designated VMCJ's. The Marines used the F3D-2Q (later designated EF-10B after 1962)from 1955 until the 1970. These aircraft were used in Vietnam to a large success and were primarily operated ashore at Da Nang.

In 1962 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara required the services to simplify their designation system for both aircraft and weapon systems. He did this, according to scuttlebutt, is that both the Navy and Air Force were ordering parts for the same aircraft (the F-4 Phantom) by the Navy called its version the F4H-2N while the USAF had designated its version the F-110B. He realized that money could of been saved if we were buying parts for the same aircraft types. So following September 1962 the way aircraft were described followed an improved pattern.

In 1965 the Navy Realized that they needed to replace the vulnerable EA-1F (as the AD-5Q was designated) and while looking around they realized the airplane to use was the A-3 Skywarrior. It has a tremendous space for all the various antenna and black boxes the ECM mission were requiring. On top of that as radar systems improved they realized more and more of the actual tweaking of out going signals had to be done by computers. Again there was only so much room in the EA-1F for these new computers and for the new ECM gear to radiate out the energy required. So it was in 1967 the EA-3B Skywarrior started to join the home base element of VAW-13 and as the various detachments came home they traded in their old EA-1F's for the new EA-3B's or EKA-3B's. The final deployment of the EA-1F occurred in 1968.
The EA-3B's were completely different compared to what was being flown before. Where as the EA-1F's had to fly straight at the radar site they were jamming along with decreasing their altitude to make sure their jamming was covering the offending site. Near the end of the path the aircrew had to execute a hard climbing turn to turn away and start climbing back up to a high altitude to restart the attack again. This lead to the squadron to adopt the motto "We can Hack it!". Now with the A-3's they just had to fly a basic race track pattern and the antenna's could be turned and tuned. No more violent maneuvering and no more getting into range of air defense of the bad guys. The other big difference between the two birds is just the size alone. The EA-1F had a 50 foot wing span, was about 40 feet long and the cockpit was only 13 feet off the ground. The EA-3B had a 72 ft wing span, 76 ft long and its cockpit was 22 ft high off the ground. Things were just bigger. The EA-3B's started to deploy in 1968 and continued to deploy on carriers. As the bomber versions of the A-3's were being phased out they went through re-work at the Naval Air Depot in Alameda to be converted into either the EA-3B or the EKA-3B. The only difference between the two was that the EKA-3B had a little housing near the aft of the bomb bay for an in-flight refueling system. So it could do the Jamming mission or the other mission the squadron could fly is the flying gas station (aka Texaco).

The Marines again looking around when the Navy was making the modifications to the Skywarrior. The Marines realized that the EF-10B just couldn't handle flying over such an integrated air defense system like North Vietnam was become. Again, the airframe was tired and the need for more and more jamming power just lead them to look around for something bigger and better. The Grumman Aircraft Corporation took an A-6A and modified it to and electronic attack variant called the EA-6A. They enlarged tip of the vertical stabilizer to house the various antennas required. Added some additional pylons to carry either Chaff pods or electronic counter measure pods. The nose had a plug installed it was actually made heavier. The first EA-6A was accepted at MCAS Cherry Point in 1965 and its first combat deployment was with VMCJ-1 at MCAS Da Nang in 1967. The EA-6A was eventually picked up by the Navy at the end of the Vietnam war. It was supplied to its reserve air VAQ squadrons, VAQ-209 and VAQ-309. Along with being supplied to the first tactical electronic warfare squadron VAQ-33 The Firebirds.
The Firebirds were originally a composite squadron based out of Rhode Island and after a shake up post the Korean war they became specialists in the all-weather bombing mission with the re designation as VA(AW)-33. After receiving the AD-5Q's they were re designated again to become VAW-33. In 1968 the Navy realized it was too burdensome to train people in both the early warning and electronic mission at the same time. There needed to be specialization so VAW-33 became the first tactical electronic warfare squadron VAQ-33 on the first of February. Following on the heels of that VAW-13 became VAQ-130 on the first of October. The need for more ECM lead to the re designation of VAH-4 and VAH-2, both heavy bombing units that flew the A-3 Skywarrior up in Whidbey Island to be re designated VAQ-131(nee' VAH-4) and VAQ-132(nee' VAH-2). They then moved down to NAS Alameda to trade in their bombers for electronic Whales. VAQ-130 also became the EA-3B Replacement Squadron in 1971 with the disestablishment of VAH-123. It was the largest tactical electronic attack squadron in the Navy at the time. Between training Pilots and Electronic Countermeasures Officers (ECMOs) and providing dets, they were also the Electronic Attack Wing commander. Things were hard but good. They got a little easier as VAH-10 converted to EA-3B's with them being re designated as VAQ-129 and the plan to take over the training requirements.

In 1969 the Navy realized that although the EA-3B was good there is always better. They took a look at the EA-6A and realized that it was good as well. After some figuring they realized that if you combine the airframe of the A-6 with the crew requirements of the old EA-1F and EA-3B (both of which had a pilot, navigator, and two ECMO's). They looked around and saw that the Grumman was already thinking ahead of them. The EA-6B Intruder (as it was originally called by Grumman) was being built for flight testing. The Navy bought into the idea, it was a common airframe to their primary attack aircraft. The EA-6B started to arrive in the US Navy in 1971, VAQ-129 dropped their plans to become the Electric Whale RAG and instead they built the syllabus and training regime for this new electronic attack aircraft. VAQ-132 became the first squadron to deploy to a combat zone with it when in 1972 they deployed on board the USS America (CV-66) and CVW-8. There they flew missions in support of Operation Linebacker I and II. There is a story that during the midst of the Christmas Bombing there were two EA-6B Prowlers were flying their race track pattern when they detected just over one hundred missile being launched. Both aircraft realized they couldn't jam all the missile guidance radars, instead they knew the missile command detonate signal and proximity radar signal (which the warhead used to detonate itself near the target) so they jammed both of those signals. The reports later that night from all over Pacific Command was everyone from B-52's over Hanoi to USN strike packages near Haiphong were reporting Surface to Air Missiles were going ballistic past them and were not detonating. That is some power and some idea of why this mission is so important now a days. As more and more EA-6B's came on line the Electronic Warfare folks moved away from San Francisco in 1973 and resettled up to NAS Whidbey Island.
The EA-6B had been there from flying electronic support missions along route paths for the RH-53D's to rescue the Hostages in 1979, to open holes in the Libyan air defenses in 1986 so the USAF and USN could bomb Qadhafi for his support of international terrorism. They were the jamming both radar signals and throwing anti-radar missiles during Operation Desert Storm. Supporting the folks on the ground during Operation Desert Saber by jamming enemy communications. They flew support missions during Operations Northern and Southern Watch. The EA-6B was there over Serbia and Kosovo. When international terrorism came to the United States, it was EA-6B's that were providing ECM support as US Navy and USAF strike packages were having their way over Afghanistan.
The same was said again over Iraq. Now the EA-6B's in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, by flying ECM support of the folks on the ground.
Both the US Navy and the US Marine Corps operate the EA-6B in 20 different squadrons. VAQ-129, VAQ-130,VAQ-131,VAQ-132,VAQ-133,VAQ-134,VAQ-135,VAQ-136, VAQ-137,VAQ-138,VAQ-139,VAQ-140,VAQ-141,VAQ-142,VAQ-209,VMAQ-1,VMAQ-2,VMAQ-3,VMAQ-4.

In the mid-90's it was realized that the EA-6B was starting to get a little long in the tooth. On an average most of the airframes were over thirty years old and even though they had been through re-work. The age was just showing, fatigue on the wings and airframes was there. Some of this fatigue had caused aircraft losses. McDonnell/Douglas (and later Boeing) had started to play around with converting an F-18F into an electronic attack aircraft. Playing around with the needs and requirements, Boeing built the EF-18G Growler. With the arrival of the first EF-18G to the fleet on June 3rd of 2008, a new path of electronic warfare is being forged. Again VAQ-129 has taken it upon themselves to establish the maintenance and training syllabus. The future looks bright. I won't say bright enough to wear shades though. The Marines again have decided they are not going to buy into the EF-18G and instead try to soldier on with the EA-6B until something that fits their requirements comes down the pipeline.

The future beyond manned aircraft.
A possible future for the Navy's EW aircraft might be a UCAV. There are advantages here along with disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that one could conceivably build a number of smaller versions all of which using improved networking capabilities could accurately plot mobile early warning sites and radar defense sites. On top of that each separate one could be built and configured separately to fly missions for longer periods of time then what a human crew member could possible even fly. The disadvantage is that even under the best possible conditions UAV's are a lost at very high rate. With the cost of some of the ECM systems that just would be unsustainable for the Navy. The other disadvantage is adapting a UCAV for carrier usage. It hasn't really been tested out yet to explore all the problems that would come with it.

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