A FORMAL ‘Sundown’ ceremony was held at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, yesterday, March 8, to officially de-activate Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2) ‘Death Jesters’, the final US Marine Corps unit operating the EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft. VMAQ-2 had flown its final flights at Cherry Point on February 28.
The Prowler’s final combat missions had been carried out during a seven-month VMAQ-2 deployment of six aircraft to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, last year to support Operations Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support in Afghanistan, together with Operation Inherent Resolve Iraq and Syria. Two of the unit’s Prowlers returned home from that deployment on November 13, followed by the remaining four on November 17. They were replaced at Al Udeid by EA-18G Growlers from the US Navy’s Electron Attack Squadron 135 (VAQ-135) ‘Black Ravens’.
Since then the Squadron has been progressively winding down and November 28-29 three of its EA-6Bs were flown from Cherry Point, via a fuel stop at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. These aircraft, 163045 ‘CY-00’, 162934 ‘CY-01’ and 163032 ‘CY-03’, were then inducted into storage by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. This left just three other Prowlers with VMAQ-2, comprising 162230 ‘CY-02’, 162228 ‘CY-04’ and 163047 ‘CY-05’, all of which will be preserved. One of them, 163047, has already been delivered to the MAPS Air Museum at Akron-Canton Airport in North Canton, Ohio, where it arrived on January 17. The final two Prowler flights will be on March 12, when one is delivered to Dallas-Love Field, Texas, for the Frontiers of Flight Museum and on March 14, when the other goes to the National Air and Space Museum annexe at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington-Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia. These aircraft are 162228 and 162230, but it is unconfirmed as yet which is allocated to each museum.
The type had been in Marine Corps service for over 40 years and flew combat missions in the 1991 Gulf War, while later being involved in operations in Bosnia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. It took part in Operations El Dorado Canyon, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Deny Flight, Decisive Endeavor, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Northern and Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Unified Protector and, most recently Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel. Its sustained tempo of operations led to VMAQ-2 having the highest utilisation rate of any USMC Prowler squadron and the highest utilisation rate for any type/model/series of aircraft in the USMC.
The Prowler, which became operational in 1971, was also previously flown by the US Navy, which retired its final aircraft on June 27, 2015, leaving just the USMC with the type. Three other USMC units had flown the type, comprising training unit Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 (VMAQT-1) ‘Banshees’, plus VMAQ-4 ‘Seahawks’ and VMAQ-3 ‘Moondogs’, which disbanded respectively on April 29, 2016; June 2, 2017; and May 11, 2018. A total of 170 EA-6Bs were built before production ended in 1991.
The USMC Prowler’s electronic warfare mission is being taken over by Marine Corps’ unmanned aircraft and ground systems, along with new F-35B Lightning IIs and EW sensors such as the Intrepid Tiger II jamming pod, which will be fitted to the small RQ-21A Blackjack tactical UAV. The US Navy has replaced the type with the EA-18G Growler.