Prowler Bows Out After 48 Years

 - March 11, 2019, 5:11 AM
VMAQ-2's last two EA-6B Prowlers fly from the unit's Cherry Point base just days before the squadron's decommissioning. (Photo: Lance Cpl Liam Higgins/U.S. Marine Corps)

On March 8 Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Two (VMAQ-2) “Death Jesters” was formally decommissioned at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. The ceremony also brought the operational career of the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler to a conclusion after nearly 50 years of service and involvement in all major U.S. military operations since the final months of the Vietnam War.

Derived from the airframe of the Grumman A-6 Intruder, the four-seat Prowler was a dedicated electronic warfare (EW) platform that carried powerful jamming equipment and, later, HARM anti-radar missiles. It entered front-line service with the U.S. Navy’s VAQ-132 “Scorpions” in 1971 and ultimately equipped 15 Navy squadrons, including a training unit and a Naval Reserve squadron. It was retired from Navy service in June 2015.

Known originally as the “Playboys” and subsequently “Panthers” before adopting the name “Death Jesters,” VMAQ-2 became the first Marine squadron to fly the Prowler in 1977. In 1992 the unit was divided into three squadrons: VMAQ-1 “Banshees”; VMAQ-2; and VMAQ-3 “Moon Dogs.” Marine Corps Reserve unit VMAQ-4 “Seahawks” upgraded to the EA-6B from the EA-6A in 1990. In Marine service, the EA-6B received its baptism of fire in 1986, during the Operation El Dorado Canyon raids on Libya.

The fleet drawdown process saw one squadron decommissioned every year from 2016, leaving VMAQ-2. The unit returned from its last operational deployment in November 2018 and began retiring its aircraft to museums or to the boneyard. By the time of its decommissioning VMAQ-2 had just two aircraft remaining on strength.

The retirement of the Prowler leaves Marine Corps aviation without a dedicated electronic warfare capability for the first time since the late 1950s. The Corps’ first jamming platform was the Douglas F3D-2Q/EF-10B Skyknight, a conversion of the two-seat first-generation missile fighter. EF-10Bs saw service in Vietnam from April 1965 until 1969. By that time they had been supplanted by the Grumman EA-6A, an EW version of the two-seat Intruder that remained in service until fully replaced by the Prowler in 1990.

While the Navy has replaced all of its Prowlers with the Boeing EA-18G Growler, the Marines have no plans for a dedicated manned EW asset. The Corps is expecting that some portions of the EW mission can be assumed by UAVs and by the standard F-35B/C Lightning II.