An EA-18G Growler sits at NAS Whidbey. Photo by Alex Jossi.

An EA-18G Growler sits at NAS Whidbey. Photo by Alex Jossi.

I grew up knowing the Navy’s EA-6B Prowler very well — my father flew them for about 20 years. The aircraft was made tough, but all planes need to be replaced sooner or later. Recently, the Navy has started the transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the FA-18 based EA-18G Growler. Reader Alex Jossi had the opportunity to do some photography of the new Growler and was willing to write up a story on the aircraft. Here is his story in his own words:

Thanks to a friend and local aviation photographer, a handful of us guys were able to take photos at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. It was a treat to get some of the CAG birds, many of which have already been retired in the five weeks since we made the trek up north from the Portland area. I have it on pretty good hunch that they had us photograph those particular Prowlers for a reason. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend. But all good things eventually come to an end. For those of you who may not know, CAG birds are aircraft for a unit with special paint jobs, either on the entire aircraft itself or a special design on the tail. Typically, but not always, these aircraft are flown by the commander of the unit for which the aircraft belongs to. Similar terms for CAG birds include: ’œShow Bird’, ’œEaster Egg’, ’œBoss Machine’, and ’œHead Nuts’.

An older EA-6B that is being phased out. Photo by Alex Jossi.

An older EA-6B that is being phased out. Photo by Alex Jossi.

The United States Navy is slowly phasing out the EA-6B Prowlers in favor of the newer and more advanced EA-18G Growlers. The Prowler’s initial deployment was in 1972 in Asia. It also saw combat later during Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. In 1994, it was selected to become the sole tactical radar support jammer for all services. Today, Prowler aircraft are a high-demand, low density military asset used quite heavily in the war on terrorism.

The new ICAP III System, first delivered in 2005, has performed beyond expectations in its combat deployments during Iraqi Freedom. However, the four-crew electronic attack aircraft (one pilot, three electronic countermeasures officers) are aging, and are less fuel economic than the newer Growlers. They can’t keep getting repaired; therefore, it is necessary and feasible that they be replaced.

As capable as the Prowler is, the Growler is much newer and much more capable. The EA-18G Growler’s ALQ-218 wideband receiver and ALQ-99 tactical jamming system will be more effective in preventing ground-to-air attacks. Its Modular ALQ-227 Communication Countermeasure Set enables it to counter a wider range of communication systems and can readily adapt to current threats.

Reaching initial operational capability in 2009, the EA-18G Growler program leverages proven processes developed through the Super Hornet Program (the EA-18G Growler is a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet) and is recognized as an aircraft that will ensure a low-risk executable program that will remain on schedule, under weight, and an aircraft that will provide significant cost savings.

EA-18G Growler for VAQ-135. Photo by Alex Jossi.

EA-18G Growler for VAQ-135. Photo by Alex Jossi.

That being said, there is still a sense of nostalgia surrounding the Prowlers that will never go away. Those who view retired aircraft of the past with admiration, know what I’m talking about. The Prowler will soon be one of those many ’œold friends’ that we will never get to see again in the same capacity that they can be seen now. It is one of those aircraft joining the ranks of ’œget them while you can’ that will soon be just another ’œairplane on a pole’ as so many aircraft have before.

Check out Alex’s 14 photos and five videos on the EA-18G Growlera nice close up of the Growler and 23 photos and one video of the EA-6B Prowler.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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I always thought it cool that the same type of aircraft could be used in different roles. Cuts down on differing spare parts. The A-6’s sure saw a long life starting in the Vietnam war era. The US Navy also uses F-18’s for tanking other F-18’s.

Time to watch “The Final Countdown” again.

Nice pix.

Brian Lusk

That “nuclear” marking on the Prowler’s nose is a throwback to when they were operating the A-6 Intruder alongside it’s cousin the Prowler. From the front, they looked identical, so the nose marking helped the LSO know which type of aircraft was landing. Surprised they kept the nose marking after the A-6 was retired.

The FA-18 variant will certainly help cut personnel costs as well, since it only has a pilot and an exceptionally busy GiB (Guy-in Back) as opposed to the A-6 crew of 4 with it’s comfy (grin) side-by-side seating.

AA Cunningham

‘The Prowler will soon be one of those many ”old friends” that we will never get to see again in the same capacity that they can be seen now.’ David Parker Brown

The Marine Corps will continue to operate the Prowler for a long time, nearly a decade. Sundown is currently scheduled for fourth quarter of CY2019.

“as opposed to the A-6(sic) crew of 4” FrankV

The A-6 had a crew of two. The EA-6B has a crew of four. Very little commonality between the two types.

The Navy EA-6B ICAP III’s with the lowest hours will be sent to the Marines at MCAS Cherry Point, NC to replace thier older models and stand up a few more squadrons there.

AA Cunningham

“and stand up a few more squadrons there.” Mark

Incorrect. The Corps currently has no plans to stand up more VMAQs. In fact VMAQ-4 is slated to transition to FRS status becoming VMAQ-4T in the “near future”. Total number of aircraft at Cherry Point will increase slightly, approximately 10%.

glen towler

Great photos I have never seen a prowler in real life I have seen a intruder close impressive aircraft . Very interesting piece

This article primarily considers the Navy’s phasing out of the Prowlers, and regardless of the fact that the Marines may still use them, their days are numbered nonetheless.

AA Cunningham

“their days are numbered nonetheless.”

7+ years is a long time and whether or not the SEAD mission can successfully be transitioned to the F-35B remains to be seen. The Corps may have no choice but to continue operating their Prowlers for much longer. Having said that, since NAVAIR has recently issued a RFI for replacement of the Super Hornet you could also generalize and say that the Super Bugs/Growlers days are numbered as well.

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