Key point: The Prowler served well for a long time, but it was time for these aging planes to be retired.
In early November 2018, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Two (VMAQ-2) “Death Jesters” departed Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar and returned to their home base of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina. The 250 Marines were not only undoubtedly overjoyed to return home after a deployment that began in April, but were also proud to hold the distinction of having completed the final operational deployment of the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare (EW) aircraft, set to be retired in 2019.
Though the United States Marine Corps and Navy have been gradually phasing the Prowler out of service since 2009, its twilight saw as heavy a workload as ever. When the Islamic State had Iraq teetering on the brink in the summer of 2014, the EA-6B’s of VMAQ-2 and VMAQ-3 “Moon Dogs” flying from Al Udeid and VAQ-134 “Garudas” aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush were among the first units to respond to the emergency. VMAQ-4 relieved VMAQ-3 in August that year and pulled triple-duty; in addition to ongoing missions over Iraq, Prowlers flew into Syria when Operation Inherent Resolve expanded there, along with the occasional trip into Afghanistan.
VAQ-134’s deployment aboard Bush was the navy’s final operational use of the EA-6B and eventually retired the plane in 2015. Marine Prowlers, on the other hand, kept up the pace, with the four squadrons deploying in rotating fashion to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey between April 2016 and April 2018 before returning to Qatar one last time that same month. The Prowler’s contribution to the war against ISIL can be described as nothing short of remarkable, doing everything from jamming ISIL’s communications and radio frequencies used to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) to escorting bombers during the air strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime in April 2018. In this role, the EA-6Bs were charged with the possible duty of suppressing Russian and Syrian air defenses should the need arise.