News | July 10, 2024

EA-6B Prowler Honored at Point Mugu

By Tim Gantner

Nearly 100 people gathered to honor the iconic Prowler at Missile Park. Veteran and current aviators in their flight jackets shared stories with civilians whose expertise forged the aircraft's legacy. The ceremony featured the unveiling of a bronze plaque—a lasting tribute to the aircraft and the Point Mugu personnel who ensured its long and storied service from 1971 to 2019.

For some, this dedication was a long-awaited dream, finally coming to fruition.

Dr. Ron Smiley, who retired in 2020 after years heading up electronic warfare efforts for NAWCWD and Naval Air Systems Command, began working at Point Mugu in the early 1970s, coinciding with the Prowler's initial operational deployment. Over the years, he witnessed the aircraft's evolution and the tireless efforts of the Point Mugu team to keep the Prowler at the forefront of electronic attack.

"I have waited many years for this dedication," Smiley said. "As I stand here before you today with this beautiful aircraft behind me, four words come to my mind: venerable, iconic, symbolic and a legacy."

Between 1966 and 1991, a total of 170 EA-6B Prowlers rolled off the assembly line at Grumman's Calverton, New York, facility on Long Island. These versatile aircraft quickly transitioned to active duty, with the first arriving at Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, in December 1971. The Prowler's baptism by fire came quickly in Vietnam. They flew combat missions as part of Operations End Sweep and Linebacker II in 1972. The Prowler's legacy continued throughout the decades, proving its worth in conflicts like the Persian Gulf War and the War on Terror.

No EA-6B Prowler was ever shot down in combat. The Prowler's ability to suppress enemy defenses made it a linchpin for ensuring the safety of U.S. and coalition forces. When it came to strike missions, pilots never wanted to leave the carrier, or "mom," as the aviators dubbed it, without an EA-6B or two to protect them.

"There are several types of combat strike missions against enemies with effective air defenses, particularly early in combat like the first few days or weeks, that EA-6B support was required or the mission would not happen," said Michael Szczerbinski, a former EA-6B pilot. "Some missions actually required multiple EA-6Bs, or the mission was a 'no-go.'"

The Prowler's electronic warfare capabilities were so crucial that strike operations often would only launch with its support. The Navy and Marine Corps relied heavily on the EA-6B, affectionately nicknamed the "flying drumstick" or "family truckster," to shield their aircraft from enemy fire.

"Fighter pilots always wanted EA-6Bs there to protect them. We were like their good luck charm of electronic attack Armageddon," Szczerbinski said. "We joke now that the cool kids needed the 'flying drumstick.'"

This dedication celebrates the deep connection between Point Mugu and the legendary Prowler. The base played a pivotal role in the aircraft's development, upgrades, and enduring success throughout its decades of service.

After countless missions flown from iconic carriers like the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS Nimitz (CVN 68), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), this particular Prowler made its final journey in June 2015, landing at Point Mugu, which sustained its extraordinary career. Now, in Missile Park, it represents the remarkable partnership between the aircraft and the skilled personnel of Point Mugu.

"The EA-6B depended on the experts here, whose work was enabled and supported by Point Mugu's resources and infrastructure," said Rear Adm. Keith Hash, NAWCWD commander. 

The relationship between Point Mugu and the Prowler dates back to 1973 when the base became the designated EA-6B Aircraft Computer Systems Software Support Activity.

Protection, deception, disruption: These were the tools in the Prowler's bag of electronic tricks. By blinding enemy radar with electronic interference, the Prowler suppressed air defenses. Its actions also allowed for gathering critical intelligence, ensuring the survivability of U.S. and coalition forces in combat.

"Point Mugu was critical to the Prowler's effectiveness over the years, actually improving capability as the plane aged," Szczerbinski said. "Professionals at Point Mugu pioneered several series of electronic upgrades that improved sensor systems and their integration with jamming capabilities and pilot interface."

This expertise was vital, especially after the Air Force retired the EF-111A Raven in 1998. The Prowler was the only dedicated electronic warfare aircraft until the Navy introduced the EA-18G Growler in 2008.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Prowler was one of the most effective platforms against modern telecommunications and cell phones," Szczerbinski said.

The Prowler's adaptability was especially evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it evolved to meet new threats. One example of this was the aircraft's ability to disrupt improvised explosive devices by jamming the communication signals used to detonate them remotely. This crucial capability, developed in response to the growing IED threat, made the Prowler one of the most effective platforms for protecting ground troops in these conflicts.

"The 'flying drumstick' with a 'ground-seeking nose' holds a special place in my heart, especially as it has gotten me home safely many times, hundreds of miles from anything resembling 'safe,' over Afghanistan getting shot at," Szczerbinski said.

During the ceremony, one EA-6B alum retired Navy Capt. Jeff Chism shared his own journey with the Prowler, from a young kid inspired by the aircraft at an air show to a seasoned pilot who flew the EA-6B in combat. His heartfelt thanks highlighted the deep bond between the Prowler and those who flew it. For Chism and many others, the Prowler was more than just an aircraft—it was a trusted partner that protected them and their fellow service members in the face of danger.

"Thank you for the countless lives you saved through your black magic of electronic warfare, dominating the electromagnetic spectrum, and the number of sailors that allowed you to grace, caress and maintain you," he said.

The EA-6B Prowler displayed at Missile Park also represents Pont Mugu’s continuing excellence in electronic warfare support. Innovations pioneered for the Prowler laid the foundation for the Growler, ensuring a seamless transition and continued excellence in electronic warfare.

"The EA-18G Growler was effective on day one because of the legacy that was carried over from the Prowler," said Harlan Kooima, NAWCWD’s director of Research and Development.

A bronze plaque, unveiled during the dedication ceremony, pays a fitting tribute to an extraordinary aircraft and the dedicated professionals who kept it at the forefront of electronic warfare for nearly half a century. Its place in history is now cemented at Point Mugu for generations to come, a reminder of its vital role in protecting U.S. forces and ensuring mission success.

"I say to you who are here and have been part of the EA-6B e-warfare workforce, thank you for all you have done. Thank you for helping the Prowler become the machine that changed the world of e-warfare," Smiley said. 

Tim Gantner is a public affairs officer with Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.