The initial step in the introduction of the A-6A into combat was the formation of replacement air groups which would be training squadrons for the Intruder. The first of these was VA-42 at NAS Oceana, Virginia, which took its first A-6A delivery on February 7, 1962.The first fleet squadron to receive the Intruder was VA-75 at NAS Oceana in Virginia, which began to receive its A-6As in October of 1963.
The SouthEast Asian War was the first theatre where the Intruder entered combat. Squadron VA-75 the first to take the Intruder into combat, which they did on July 1, 1965 in an attack from the USS Independence against targets south of Hanoi. Although the DIANE system was still not working reliably, the A-6A was at the time the only American aircraft capable of operating over North Vietnam at night. The first combat loss took place on July 14, 1965. Losses were fairly light during nighttime operations, but fairly heavy during close-support missions during the day. The Intruder was not designed for these sorts of low-level daylight close-support missions, and proved to be fairly vulnerable to small arms fire. Some of the early losses were also caused by premature detonation of their own bombs during release during steep dives, the bombs sometimes tumbling into each other immediately after release and exploding. The cure for this problem was to introduce multiple ejector racks that used an explosive charge to release the bombs. Other aircraft were also affected by this problem.
Combined Navy and Marine Corps losses during the Vietnam war included 67 A-6As and one A-6B lost in combat, plus 11 A-6As, two KA-6D,s one A-6B and one A-6C lost in accidents.
Beginning in the summer of 1966, the Navy began a system improvement program for the AN/APQ-92 and AN/APQ-112 radars, which had been an improvement to the AN/APQ-88 that had been installed in the earliest Intruders. The APQ-92 radar had an internal Klystron tube replacing an external microwave source to reduce corrosion and improve reliability. Another improvement was the replacement of the black radome by a lighter-colored neoprene radome. This new radome interfered less with radar propagation and was less prone to corrosion.
The next theatre of operation where the Intruder saw action was the ill-starred American intervention in Lebanon.
The context behind American intervention into Lebanon is a long and complicated story. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lebanese politicians for the most part sought to insulate their country from the Arab-Israeli dispute and were able to avoid involvement in the wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973. Consequently, Lebanon was able to achieve some years of relative peace and economic prosperity. However, Lebanon has for long been divided along religious lines, with substantial Muslim and Christian populations, and this division lead to a series of complex civil wars in which various factions fought each other in bloody battles, leading in turn to a series of interventions by foreign forces from Syria, Israel, and the United States.
In the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Palestinian guerilla groups increasingly began using southern Lebanon as a base of operations for attacks on Israel. The Palestinian presence frustrated the effort to maintain the delicate religious balance in Lebanon, for it tended to pit Muslim Lebanese against Christian Lebanese. Periodic clashes took place between the Palestinian guerillas and the Lebanese Army. However, on November 2, 1969 the Lebanese commander in chief and Yasir Arafat, the head of Al Fatah, the leading faction in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), announced a cease fire which tried to set some limits on Palestinian guerilla operations in Lebanon, but clashes between PLO and Lebanese Army units still continued to take place.
The situation got worse when large numbers of Palestinian guerillas were expelled from Jordan in 1970-71 and took up residence in southern Lebanon for continued raids against Israel. The guerrillas either tended to ally themselves with existing leftist Lebanese organizations or they attempted to form various new leftist groups that received support from the Lebanese Muslim community and caused further splintering in the Lebanese body politic.
The now all-too-familiar pattern of guerilla infiltrations followed by Israeli counterattacks was now firmly established. An Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon took place in retaliation for the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in September of 1972. There was even an Israeli commando raid on Beirut itself on April 10, 1973. To avoid calling Israeli wrath down on their country, the Lebanese army tried to suppress some of the PLO's activities, but without much success. In May, armed clashes between the army and the guerrillas in Beirut spread to other parts of the country, resulting in the arrival of more guerrilla reinforcements from Syria, the declaration of martial law, and a new secret agreement limiting guerrilla activity.
The October 1973 Yom Kippur War was to change everything. Even though Lebanon was not directly involved in any of the fighting, the war was to have tragic consequences for the country. In 1975-76, Lebanon become involved in a long and bloody civil war, with Muslim militias and Christian Phalangists fighting each other in street battles. Although the two warring factions were often characterized as Christian versus Muslim, the situation was much more complex. The largely-Christian Phalange Party had a Fascist ancestry dating back to the 1930s, with an ideology on the right side of the political spectrum. It was supported by Israel as a balance against Palestinian influence. Also closely aligned with the Phalange Party were the Maronite Christian militias. On the opposite site was the Lebanese National Movement, which was a rather loosely-organized assembly of militias from leftist and Muslim organizations as well as guerillas from the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The main forces of the PLO were gradually pulled into the conflict. In addition, the Lebanese Army gradually disintegrated as a series of mutinies took place in which substantial segments of the army deserted to join one faction or another.
Syrian soon also got dragged into the conflict in Lebanon. On the one hand, the regime of Syrian President Hafiz al Assad strongly opposed the permanent fragmentation of Lebanon, fearing that the creation of a Maronite mini-state right next door would amount to the establishment of "another Israel." On the other hand, Syria had also resisted the notion of the formation of a radical, left-wing Muslim state on its western border. Furthermore, after having to deal with its own Muslim fundamentalist rebellion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Syria was concerned that a radical Islamic state in Lebanon would have negative domestic implications.
In May of 1976, alarmed at the possibility of a radical hostile state on its western border, Syria forcibly entered the conflict against the Lebanese National Movement, which placed Syria initially on the side of the Christian militias. Rather than try and crush the resistance altogether, at this time Syria chose to participate in an Arab peace conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 1976. The Riyadh Conference, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo also in October 1976, formally ended the Lebanese Civil War. Although the underlying causes were in no way eliminated, the full-scale warfare was stopped. Substantial Syrian forces remained in Lebanon, and by this time the city of Beirut had been reduced to rubble and the town was now divided into Muslim and Christian sectors. Syria's presence in Lebanon was legitimated by the establishment of an Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) by the Arab League in October 1976. Large regions of the country still remained in Palestinian control, with certain areas becoming known as "Fatahland", after the main PLO grouping.
However, the Syrian-dominated ADF soon began to turn against its Phalangist allies. Significant ADF action against the Phalange Party militia, headed by Bashir Jumayyil, took place around Zahlah (fifty kilometers east of Beirut) in late 1980 and April 1981. This military threat to its Christian ally caused Israel to intervene, and it shot down two Syrian helicopters over Lebanon. Syria, in turn, introduced SA-2 and SA-6 surface-to-air missiles into Lebanon. The resulting "missile crisis" threatened to cause yet another regional war, but this danger was at least for the moment averted through the mediation efforts of other Arab nations and the United States
On June 6, 1982 Israeli forces massively invaded southern Lebanon in retaliation for an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to London. On June 9, the Israeli air force launched an air raid against the Syrian antiaircraft missile batteries in the Biqa Valley. The Syrians, caught by surprise, sustained severe losses; of the nineteen missile batteries, only two were left intact after the Israeli attack. The Syrian Air Force made a desperate bid to protect their air defense system by sending up scores of interceptors and fighters, resulting in over 200 aircraft engaged in supersonic dogfights over a 2,500 square kilometer area. The Israeli Air Force shot down twenty-nine Syrian aircraft that day (and later about fifty more) without a single loss. The devastation of the Syrian air defense system and the decimation of the Syrian Air Force provided the IDF with total air superiority in Lebanon and left the Syrian infantry exposed to air attack.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon had several direct consequences. First, it resulted in the deaths of several hundred Palestinian fighters and the expulsion of several thousand more, not to mention several thousand Lebanese and Palestinian casualties and massive destruction. For a time, the invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon diminished Syrian influence, as the Syrian Army was forced north and east. Bowing to political pressures, however, on June 11 Israel and Syria agreed to a truce under United States auspices.
The cease-fire signaled the start of a new stage in the war. The IDF now focused on PLO forces trapped in Beirut. Israel maintained the siege of Beirut for seventy days, unleashing a relentless barrage of air, naval, and artillery bombardment. The Lebanese government pressured Arafat to withdraw the PLO from Beirut to spare the civilian population from further bombardment. Arafat agreed to depart, but on the condition that a Multi-National Force (MNF), made up of military units from Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, be set up to supervise the Palestinian evacuation and would stay behind to keep the peace. Under the agreement, PLO fighters were evacuated to Syria and Tunisia. The first MNF troops arrived in Beirut on August 21, 1982, On August 26, the remaining MNF troops arrived, including 800 US Marines.
The MNF occupation also created a favorable climate for Phalangist militia head Bashir Jumayyil to win the Presidency. On September 10, the Marines withdrew from Beirut, followed shortly thereafter by the withdrawal of the rest of the MNF. The Lebanese Army began to move back into West Beirut, and the Israelis withdrew their troops from the front lines. But the war was far from over.
By ushering in Jumayyil as president and evicting the PLO from Beirut, Israel had attained two of its key war goals. Israel would also have liked to be able to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with Lebanon that would get Syrian forces out of Lebanon and would also prevent the PLO from re-infiltrating Lebanon after the IDF withdrew. However, Jumayyil repudiated earlier promises to Israel immediately after the election. He informed the Israelis that a peace treaty was inconceivable as long as the IDF or any other foreign forces remained in Lebanon and that it could be concluded only with the consent of all the Lebanese.
On September 14, 1982, President-elect Bashir Jumayyil was assassinated by a radio-detonated explosion at the Phalange Party headquarters. The perpetrator was believed to be a Syrian agent. Bashir's brother Amin was elected as the new president with United States backing.
On the evening of September 16, 1982, the IDF, having surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, dispatched approximately 300 to 400 Christian Phalangist militiamen into the camps to rout what was believed to be the remnant of the Palestinian forces. Over a period of two days, the Christian militiamen massacred some 700 to 800 Palestinian men, women, and children. This atrocity caused world-wide outrage and resulted in a scandal in Israel. According to the report of the Kahan Commission established by the government of Israel to investigate the events, the IDF had monitored the Phalangist radio network and had fired illumination flares from mortars and aircraft to light the area. The IDF had ordered its soldiers to refrain from entering the camps, but IDF officers had supervised the operation from the roof of a six-story building overlooking parts of the area. Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, who had masterminded the invasion of Lebanon, was held indirectly responsible for the massacre and resigned from his post.
Lebanese Shia Muslims, who were severely affected by the invasion and occupation, now turned their enmity on the Israelis. As a show of support for their fellow Shia Muslims, the government of Iran, with Syrian approval, dispatched a contingent of the Pasdaran to the Biqa Valley. The approximately 650 Pasdaran forces from Iran established their headquarters in the city of Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Biqa Valley. Once established there, they conducted terrorist and guerrilla training, disbursed military matériel and money, and disseminated propaganda. There were several suicide-bombing attacks against IDF position.s
The political disarray that characterized Lebanese politics also afflicted the Shia movement, as groups split off from Amal. Husayn al Musawi, a former Amal lieutenant, entered into an alliance with the Revolutionary Guard and established Islamic Amal. Other Shia groups included Hizballah (Party of God), Jundallah (Soldiers of God), the Husayn Suicide Commandos, the Dawah (Call) Party, and the notorious Islamic Jihad organization
In April 1983, a terrorist attack destroyed the United States embassy, and the ambassador moved diplomatic operations to his official residence. The United States still persevered in its efforts to broker an Israeli-Lebanese agreement, and Israel still indicated its willingness to negotiate. Although Israel really wanted a treaty with Lebanon much like the Camp David Agreements with Egypt, entailing full bilateral diplomatic recognition, it settled for mere "normalization." An agreement between Israel and Lebanon was finally hashed out on May 17, 1983. The agreement called for an abolition of the state of war between the two countries, security arrangements to ensure the sanctity of Israel's northern border, integration of Major Saad Haddad's Christian militia into the regular Lebanese Army, and Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
However, the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was made contingent upon concurrent Syrian withdrawal. The United States had decided not to seek Syrian participation in the negotiations for the May 17 Agreement for fear of becoming entangled in the overall Syrian-Israeli dispute. Instead, the United States intended to seek Syrian endorsement after the agreement was signed. This turned out to be a big mistake--Syria vehemently opposed the agreement, and because successful implementation hinged on Syrian withdrawal, Damascus was able to block the entire deal. Although President Jumayyil made conciliatory overtures to Damascus, he also notified the Arab League on June 4 that the ADF was no longer in existence.
Syria responded by announcing on July 23, 1983, the foundation of a National Salvation Front (NSF) in its occupied territory in Lebanon. This coalition attempted to unify many sects under Syrian sponsorship, including the Druzes led by Walid Jumblatt, Shias led by Nabih Birri, Sunni Muslims led by Rashid Karami, Christian elements led by Sulayman Franjiyah, and several smaller, Syrian-sponsored, left-wing political parties. These groups, together with Syria, controlled much more of Lebanon's territory than did the central government. Therefore, the NSF constituted a challenge not only to Jumayyil but also to his patrons, the United States and Israel.
To emphasize their opposition to the May 17 Agreement, Syrian and Druze forces in the mountains above the capital opened up a artillery barrage on Christian areas of Beirut. Terrorist activity resumed, and between June and August 1983, at least twenty car bombs exploded throughout Lebanon, killing over seventy people.
At the behest of the Lebanese government, the Multinational Force (MNF) was deployed again to Beirut, but with over twice the manpower of the first peacekeeping force. It was designated MNF II and was given the mandate to separate the IDF from the Lebanese population. Additionally, MNF II was assigned the task of assisting the Lebanese Army in restoring the authority of the central government over Beirut. In support of the MNF II, the United States dispatched a contingent of 1,400 men, France 1,500, and Italy 1,400. A relatively small British contingent of about 100 men was added in January 1983, at which time the Italian contingent was increased to 2,200 men. Each contingent retained its own command structure, and no central command structure was created. The 32nd United States Marines Amphibious Unit returned to Beirut on September 29, where it took up positions in the vicinity of Beirut International Airport. The Marines' positions were adjacent to the IDF front lines. Tactically, the Marines were charged with occupying and securing positions along a line from the airport east to the Presidential Palace at Babda. The intent was to separate the IDF from the population of Beirut. On the economic level, the United States planned to assist in Lebanon's reconstruction. These tasks were never completed.
Unfortunately, the United States support for the pro-Jumayyil, Christian brigades of the Lebanese Army during the 1983-84 Mountain War turned into a fiasco. On October 23, 1983, a suicide truck bomb blew up the Marine billet at the Beirut airport, killing 241. In response, President Ronald Reagan made a decision to launch a retaliatory strike against Hizballah and Syrian facilities in Lebanon. For various reasons, this strike was indefinitely delayed. However, on December 3, 1983 an F-14 Tomcat was fired upon by Syrian missiles, and President Reagan decided to go ahead and retaliate right away against Syrian missile sites. A strike package of 28 planes including A-6Es taken from VA-75 and VA-85 aboard the USS John F. Kennedy was hastily planned for December 4 and carried out in daylight. Unfortunately, things did not go well. An A-7 was hit by ground fire and its pilot was forced to eject over the Mediterranean just offshore from Beirut. An A-6E TRAM from VA-85 crewed by Lt. Mark Lange and Lt Robert Goodman, Jr was shot down by a Syrian SAM. Lt Lange was killed and Lt Goodman was taken prisoner. Goodman was held for 30 days until Syrian president Hafez Assad released him into the hands of US presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Not only did the United States lose two aircraft to ground fire, but the shelling of Druze and Shia population centers by the U.S.S. New Jersey convinced most Lebanese Muslims that the United States had taken the Christian side. Likewise, by 1984, in the face of renewed fighting, the business of reconstruction became a faint hope. The attacks on the United States embassy and annex, and on the MNF contingent, and the kidnapping of United States citizens eventually forced the administration of President Ronald Reagan to minimize United States involvement in the increasingly ungovernable Lebanese state. Most of the MNF force was withdrawn shortly thereafter.
Intruders also played a role in the 1983 invasion of the island of Grenada. Grenada is a small Caribbean island north of Trinidad and Tobago. It is the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. It had been a British colony until it was granted full independence on February 7, 1974.
After independence, Grenada adopted a modified British-style parliamentary system, with a governor general appointed by the Queen and a Prime Minister who is both leader of the majority party and the head of government. Sir Eric Gairy was Grenada's first Prime Minister.
On March 13, 1979, the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (New Jewel) movement ousted Gairy in a nearly bloodless coup and established a people's revolutionary government (PRG), headed by Maurice Bishop, who became prime minister. He began to establish a Marxist-Leninist sort of government and soon established close ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other Communist-bloc countries.
When Ronald Reagan became President in January of 1981, his administration became increasingly irritated by the Marxist government in Grenada, and were concerned that Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was allowing Cuba to gain undue influence in Grenada, specifically by constructing a military-grade airport with the assistance of Cuban military engineers, even though it was claimed that this airport was strictly for tourism.
On October 13, 1983, the Grenadian Army, controlled by former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, seized power in a bloody coup. Bishop and several members of his cabinet were murdered. The severity of the violence, coupled with Coard's much more hard-line Marxism, caused deep concern among neighboring Caribbean nations, as well as in Washington. Also, nearly 1,000 American students were enrolled in a medical school in Grenada, and their safety might be in jeopardy.
In response to an appeal from the governor general and to a request for help from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, in the early morning of October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the island of Grenada. The code name of the invasion was Operation Urgent Fury.
The initial assault consisted of some 1,200 troops, and they were met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army and Cuban military units on the island. Shortly after US Rangers seized the Point Salines airfield, they encountered heavy resistance from Cuban troops and had to call in airstrikes. Intruders from VA-176 as well as from one of the A-7E squadrons based on the USS Independence flew air support and enabled the Rangers to establish control over the vital airport. The Intruders were in action again when the assault on the town of St. Georges was carried out by US Marines. A-7Es and AC-130H gunships also participated. Heavy fighting continued for several days, but as the invasion force grew to more than 7,000, the defenders either surrendered or fled into the mountains. Scattered fighting continued as U.S. troops hunted down stragglers, but for the most part, the island quickly fell under American control. US citizens were evacuated and order was restored. No Intruders were lost. By mid-December, U.S. combat forces went home and a pro-American government took power.
The A-6 was soon in action again, this time against Libya. On September 1, 1969, a coup by about 70 army officers and enlisted men had seized control of the Libyan government and ousted the monarchy. A twelve-member directorate named the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) became the head of government. Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi soon gained control of the RCC and became the de-facto head of state.
In the last months of 1969, the RCC moved vigorously to institute a series of domestic reforms. It loudly proclaimed neutrality in the Cold War confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union as well as opposition to all forms of "colonialism" and "imperialism." It also made clear Libya's dedication to Arab unity and to the support of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. The RCC reaffirmed the state religion as Islam. It abolished parliamentary institutions, all legislative functions being assumed by the RCC, and continued the prohibition against political parties, in effect since 1952. The new regime also categorically rejected Communism--in large part because it was officially atheistic--and officially espoused an Arab interpretation of socialism that integrated Islamic principles with social, economic, and political reform. Libya had shifted, virtually overnight, from the camp of conservative Arab traditionalist states to that of the radical nationalist states.
After the September coup, United States forces proceeded deliberately with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base under the agreement made with the previous regime. The last of the American contingent turned the facility over to the Libyans on June 11, 1970. As relations with the United States steadily deteriorated, Qadhafi forged close links with the Soviet Union and other East European countries, all the while maintaining Libya's stance as a nonaligned country and opposing the spread of communism in the Arab world. Libya's army--sharply increased from the 6,000-man pre-revolutionary force that had been largely trained and equipped by the British--was re-armed with Soviet-built weapons despite the official atheism of the Soviet state.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Libya was widely suspected of financing international terrorist activities and political subversion around the world. Recruits from various national liberation movements reportedly received training in Libya, and Libyan financing of Palestinian activities against Israel was openly acknowledged. There were also allegations of Libyan assistance to such diverse groups as Lebanese leftists, the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, and left-wing extremists in Europe and Japan. However, some observers thought that this support was more verbal than material. Nevertheless, in 1981 Libya declared support of national liberation movements a matter of principle, an act that lent credence to charges of support for terrorism.
Support for international terrorism was a major problem in Libya's relations with the United States and Western Europe. The United States, in particular, viewed Libya's diplomatic and material support for what Tripoli called "liberation movements" as aid and comfort to international terrorists. In general, after the early 1970s relations between the two countries went from bad to worse, even while the United States continued to import Libyan crude oil.
Since 1973 Libya had considered the Gulf of Sidra as its own territorial waters. Beyond that, Libya claimed another twelve nautical miles of territorial waters. The United States and most other nations refused to recognize Libya's claims, and this refusal became a recurrent cause for contention between the two countries. Under President Jimmy Carter, United States armed forces were ordered not to challenge Libyan claims by trying to cross into the claimed territory, even after the United States embassy in Tripoli was burned on December 2, 1979 by demonstrators apparently influenced by the takeover of the United States embassy in Tehran.
In 1981, the newly-elected President Ronald Reagan ushered in a change in policy and began taking more direct action against Libya. On May 6, 1981, the Reagan administration ordered the closing of the Libyan People's Bureau in Washington, and twenty-seven Libyan diplomats were expelled from the United States on charges of supporting international terrorism. Then, on August 19, 1981, two Libyan SU-22 fighters were shot down by United States F-14 jets during naval maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra. In December President Reagan called on the approximately 1,500 American citizens still living in Libya to leave the country or face legal action. In March 1982, oil imports from Libya were officially embargoed and all technology transfer was banned. In January 1986, Libyan assets in the United States were frozen as part of a series of economic sanctions against Libya.
President Ronald Reagan's administration was determined to assert the principle of free passage in international waters. In August of 1981, Khadafi had declared a "line of death" across the Gulf of Sidra, over which the US fleet would be forbidden to pass. Since the Gulf of Sidra was recognized almost universally as being international waters, President Reagan decided to challenge these territorial claims by sending a carrier task force into the Gulf of Sidra.
This effort was given the name Operation Prairie Fire. Three carrier task forces of the Sixth Fleet with 225 aircraft assembled off the Libyan coast for maneuvers in March 1986. On March 24, 1986, an incident took place in which six SA-5s were launched from the new missile base at Surt against patrolling American F-14 aircraft. None was hit, however, because the SA-5, with a range of 240 kilometers, could threaten high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the Gulf of Sidra but was relatively ineffective against high-performance jet fighters. A probing mission by a pair of MiG-25s followed shortly thereafter. Later that day, more missiles were fired at US fighters. In retaliation, a series of strikes were planned, and A-6Es from VA-34 and VA-86 attacked and crippled a Libyan corvette with Harpoon missiles (marking the first use of this missile in combat). The ship was later finished off by bombs. That same day, the missile site that had fired on the F-14s was put out of action by carrier-based A-6 Intruders firing High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs), that homed in on the Libyans' radar guidance signals. A second Libyan vessel was sunk by Harpoons launched by the Intruders of VA-85 on March 25. In addition, torpedo boats and shore-based missile installations were hit. During these attacks, EA-6Bs from VAQ-135 flew cover and scrambled Libyan electronic defenses.
On April 5, a bomb exploded in a Berlin nightclub frequented by United States service personnel. The explosion killed 2 people, one an American serviceman, and injured 204 others. Messages intercepted by United States intelligence agencies, including one from the Libyan mission in East Berlin, furnished what the United States government described as evidence of Libyan involvement in the bombing, which was probably carried out by the Abu Nidal organization. In retaliation, another series of strikes against Libya were carried out on April 14-15, 1986 under the name El Dorado Canyon.
At the beginning of El Dorado Canyon, eighteen F-111 bombers, supported by four EF-111A electronic countermeasures aircraft, left England, refueling several times enroute, and struck the Tripoli airport, a frogman training center at the naval academy, and the nearby al Aziziyah barracks, where Qadhafi often resided. At the same time, A-6, A-7, and F/A-18 aircraft from the USS America and USS Coral Sea hit the Al Jumahiriya barracks and the airport at Bengazi. These Navy squadrons included A-6Es from VA-55 and VA-34, supported by Prowlers from VAQ-135 and VMAQ-2.
As a result of the El Dorado Canyon strikes, several transport aircraft and some Soviet-built MiG-23 fighters and helicopters were destroyed on the ground at the two airfields. Some Western embassies were hit, and a number of Libyan civilians, including Qadhafi's adopted infant daughter, were killed. Observers speculated that the attack was intended to kill the Libyan leader himself, although this was officially denied by US sources. The air strikes were certainly intended to encourage the Libyan military to overthrow Qadhafi. However, this did not happen because the air strikes were opposed by virtually all segments of the population, who rallied behind their leader. Nevertheless, the raid does seem to have had an effect in curbing Libyan sponsorship of terrorism, which seems to have diminished considerably in recent years.
The A-6 was to see action again in the so-called "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf.
One of the earliest focuses of Iran's interest in exporting its Islamic revolution was the Persian Gulf area. The revolutionary leaders in Iran viewed the Arab countries of the Gulf, along with Iraq, as having tyrannical regimes subservient to one or the other of the superpowers. Throughout the first half of 1980, Radio Iran's increasingly strident verbal attacks on the ruling Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party of Iraq irritated that government, which feared the impact of Iranian rhetoric upon its own Shias, who constituted a majority of the population. There is also evidence the Iraqis hoped to bring about the overthrow of the Khomeini regime and to establish a more moderate government in Iran.
The friction between Iran and Iraq led to a series of border incidents, beginning in April 1980. On September 22, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq suddenly launched an invasion of Iran. The assault began with an Iraqi air attack on six Iranian air bases and four Iranian army bases. It was followed by an Iraqi land attack at four points along a 700-kilometer front. Baghdad believed that the post-revolutionary turmoil in Iran would permit a relatively quick victory and would lead to a new regime in Tehran more willing to accommodate the interests of Iran's Arab neighbors. This hope proved to be a false one for Iraq.
As the war dragged on, both the USA and the USSR began to get increasingly worried about the security of the region. Soviet deputy foreign minister Vladimir Petrovsky made a Middle East tour expressing his country's concern over the effects of the Iran-Iraq War. In May 1987, United States assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy also toured the Gulf emphasizing to friendly Arab states the United States commitment in the region, a commitment which had become suspect as a result of the disclosure of Washington's secret transfer of arms to the Iranians, officially as an incentive for them to assist in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon. In another diplomatic effort, both superpowers supported the UN Security Council resolutions seeking an end to the war.
The war appeared to be entering a new phase in which the superpowers were becoming more involved. For instance, the Soviet Union, which had ended military supplies to both Iran and Iraq in 1980, resumed large-scale arms shipments to Iraq in 1982 after Iran had banned the Tudeh (Iranian Communist Party) and tried and executed most of its leaders. Subsequently, despite its professed neutrality, the Soviet Union became the major supplier of sophisticated arms to Iraq. In 1985 the United States began clandestine direct and indirect negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran.
The fortunes of war gradually had turned against Iraq, and Iranian forces began to press into Iraq. In February 1986, Iranian units captured the port of Al Faw, which had oil facilities and was one of Iraq's major oil-exporting ports before the war. In late 1986/early 1987, the Iraqi port of Basra appeared in jeopardy of falling to Iranian forces. The superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in largely Shia-populated southern Iraq.
Throughout the Iran-Iraq war there had been attacks on oil tankers traversing the Persian Gulf. The tanker war had two phases. The relatively obscure first phase began in 1981, and the well-publicized second phase began in 1984. As early as May 1981, Baghdad had unilaterally declared a war zone and had officially warned all ships heading to or returning from Iranian ports in the northern zone of the Gulf to stay away or, if they entered, to proceed at their own risk. The main targets in this phase were the ports of Bandar-e Khomeini and Bandar-e Mashur; very few ships were hit outside this zone. Despite the proximity of these ports to Iraq, the Iraqi navy did not play an important role in the operations. Instead, Baghdad used Super Frelon helicopters equipped with Exocet missiles or Mirage F-1s and MiG-23s to hit its targets.
In March 1984, the tanker war entered its second phase when an Iraqi Super Etendard fired an Exocet missile at a Greek tanker south of Khark Island. Until the March assault, Iran had not intentionally attacked civilian ships in the Gulf. The new wave of Iraqi assaults, however, led Iran to reciprocate. In April 1984, Tehran launched its first attack against civilian commercial shipping by shelling an Indian freighter. Most observers considered that Iraqi attacks, however, outnumbered Iranian assaults by three to one.
Iran's retaliatory attacks were largely ineffective because a limited number of aircraft equipped with long-range antiship missiles and ships with long-range surface-to-surface missiles were deployed. Moreover, despite repeated Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, Iran itself depended on the sea-lanes for vital oil exports. Nonetheless, by late 1987 Iran's mine-laying activities and attacks on ships had drawn a large fleet of Western naval vessels to the Gulf to ensure that the sea-lanes were kept open.
During the first four months of 1987, Iran attacked twenty ships and Iraq assaulted fifteen. Kuwaiti ships were favorite targets because Iran strongly objected to Kuwait's close relationship with the Baghdad regime. Kuwait turned to the superpowers, partly to protect its oil exports but largely to seek an end to the war through superpower intervention. Moscow leased three tankers to Kuwait, and by June the United States had reflagged half of Kuwait's fleet of twenty-two tankers.
Finally, direct attacks on the superpowers' ships drew them into the conflict. On May 6, for the first time, a Soviet freighter was attacked in the southern Gulf region, hit by rockets from Iranian gunboats. Ten days later, a Soviet tanker was damaged by a mine allegedly placed by Iranians near the Kuwait coast. More shocking to the United States was the May 17, 1987 accidental Iraqi air attack on the U.S.S Stark in which thirty-seven sailors died. The attack highlighted the danger to international shipping in the Gulf.
During the tanker "reflagging" operations of 1988, when Western nations were protecting Kuwaiti shipping from attacks by Iran, VA-95 sank an Iranian Saam-class frigate and damaged another one while operating in the Arabian Gulf aboard the USS Enterprise on April 18, 1988.
The Iran-Iraq war finally ended in 1988, with both sides totally drained. Before the war, somewhere between 500,000 and a million people were dead, between 1 and 2 million people were injured, and there were two to three million refugees. Although little-covered in the Western media, the war was a human tragedy on a massive scale.
Perhaps the finest hour of the A-6 was Desert Storm.
On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Operation Desert Shield was launched to protect Saudi Arabia against Iraq, and a demand was made that Saddam Hussein withdraw his troops from Kuwait. 600,000 Coalition troops were sent to Saudi Arabia, and six carrier battle groups were sent to the Persian Gulf equipped with seven Intruders plus detachments of EA-6Bs from most of the Prowler units. Repeated warnings to Iraq that they must withdraw their forces from Kuwait were ignored, and Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991.
On January 18, two A-6Es were lost to intense ground fire during low-level attacks against SAM sites. The A-6E
carried out the first combat use of the AGM-84E SLAM. Attacks were also made against
Iraqi landing craft, tankers,
patrol boats, and minesweepers. Another A-6E was lost on February 2 to ground fire. During the land offensive which
began on February 25, A-6Es from VA-155 attacked Iraqi troops fleeing from Kuwait City along the so-called "Highway of
Death". During Desert Storm, three A-6Es were lost to hostile action, one
was damaged beyond economical repair, and one was lost in an operational accident aboard USS America.
Almost immediately after the end of Desert Storm, the A-6E began to leave Navy service. The first squadron to go was VA-55, which disestablished in February of 1991. Gradually, the A-6E's role was taken over by the F/A-18 Hornet and by the F-14 Tomcat, modified for the ground attack role. During the mid-1990s, more and more Intruders were progressively withdrawn from service and were consigned to storage at the Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona. Some of the Navy VA Intruder squadrons were issued with F/A-18s and redesignated VFA, but most were disestablished. The last A-6E Intruder catapult launch took place on December 19, 1996 from the deck of the USS Enterprise. The A-6E carried the heaviest offensive load of of any carrier-based aircraft during its 25 years of service, and neither the load nor the combat range were matched by its successor, the F/A-18C.
In contrast to the A-6E, the EA-6B Prowler remains in active service with the Navy, and will remain so for at least another few years. The Prowler currently serves with 16 Navy squadrons, which includes ten deployable squadrons assigned to carrier air wings on both coasts.
The Navy was planning to downsize its Prowler fleet from 127 to 80 aircraft in FY95, when the decision was made by the USAF to retire the EF-111A. After the Air Force retired the last of its EF-111As in June of 1998, this left the EA-6B as the only tactical jamming aircraft available to US forces. In order to support USAF needs for electronic warfare aircraft, the Navy activated four additional Prowler squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington. These four squadrons are jointly manned by both Navy and Air Force crews. They are land-based and not carrier qualified, and are assigned responsibility for providing electronic warfare support for the USAF. EA-6Bs attached to USAF expeditionary wings flew support of Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, and saw service over the former Yugoslavia during Operation Allied Force.
Established January 1, 1970 at NAS Oceana, Virginia. Received first A-6A April 17, 1970. Received A-6B, A-6C, and
KA-6D in early 1970s. Received A-6E December 1, 1973, phased out its A-6Cs. A-6Bs phased out in 1975.
Took part in Prairie Fire and El Dorado Canyon combat missions against Libya. Participated in Desert Storm.
Converted to F/A-18C and redesignated VFA-75 October 1, 1996.
Relocated to NAS Oceana, Virginia and received A-6A in September 1965, replacing A-1 Skyraider. A-6Bs added in January 1968,
KA-6Ds added in December 1970, and A-6Cs in February 1971. 4 combat cruises to Vietnam, beginning in January 1968. Receives A-6E April 1973.
Converted to A-6E TRAM August 1979. First squadron to deploy with A-6E TRAM September 10, 1979. Participated in Desert Storm. Disestablished January 31, 1995.
Established March 6, 1987 at NAS Oceana, Virginia with A-6E TRAM. Participated in Desert Storm and Operation
Provide Comfort. Disestablished
March 31, 1994.
Received A-6A February 1963, replacing A-1 Skyraider. Converted to A-6E December 197, converted to A-6E TRAM
February 1983. Played role of East Coast Intruder
fleet replacement squadron. Squadron also provided training in TC-4C Academe and T-34C Turbo-Mentor.
Disestablished September 30, 1994.
Transitioned to A-6A Intruder at end of 1967. 3 combat cruises to Vietnam. Received A-6Bs in 170 and
KA-6Ds in last quarter of 1971, A-6E in 1975. Disestablished March 31, 1995
Re-established at NAS Oceana, VA October 7, 1983 with A-6E and KA-6D. Received A-6E TRAM January 1984. Participated in Operation Prairie
Fire and El Dorado Canyon. Disestablished January 1, 1991.
Converted to A-6A from Skyraider in April 1965. Three cruises to Vietnam. Transitioned to A-6E in May 1972.
Participated in Desert Storm, Provide Comfort. Disestablished March 26, 1993.
First operational squadron to receive the A-6A (October 1963). Introduced the A-6A into combat in Vietnam December 1965.
Three combat cruises to Vietnam. Participated in
Desert Storm. Deactivated February 1997, the last Intruder squadron to be disestablished.
Established February 1, 1951, and designated VA-85 February 4, 1963 at NAS Oceana. Second fleet squadron to
convert to A-6A, which happened October 19, 1965. 4 combat cruises to Vietnam.
Converted to A-6E December 1971, becoming first operational squadron to get the E. Transitioned to A-6E TRAM September 1982. Involved in Dec 4, 1983 attack
on targets in Lebanon, where one plane was lost. Participated in Operation Prairie Fire. Flew in Desert Storm.
Disestablished September 30, 1994.
Established April 1, 1972 with A-6A at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Transitioned to A-6E in early 1970s and to
A-6E TRAM in 1980. Flew in Persian Gulf region immediately following Desert Storm. Disestablished October 31, 1995.
Reactivated January 1, 1970 with A-6A. Converted to A-6E in 1979 and A-6E TRAM shortly thereafter. 3 combat
cruises to Vietnam. Participated in Desert Storm.
Transferred to NAS Lemoore, California, for transition to F/A-18C and redesignated VFA-115 October 1, 1996.
VAH-123 was the Replacement Air Group at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington and was briefly designated VA-123 while
it acted as a nucleus of the Intruder RAG VA-128. Thereafter, VA-123 only trained Skywarrior crews until
it was disestablished February 1, 1971.
Established September 1967 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington as the West Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron for the
A-6A.. Transitioned to A-6E TRAM May 5, 1978. Also operated TC-4C for B/N training. Disestablished September 30, 1995.
Was reserve squadron VA-702 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, but called to active duty
July 20, 1950 and redesignated VA-145 February 4, 1953. Transitioned from Skyraider to A-6A June 1968.
Added A-6Bs August 1968, A-6Cs in May 1970, and KA-6Ds in 1972. 3 combat cruises to Vietnam. After September 1976, operated
only A-6Es and KA-6Ds. Action in Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Provide Relief. Disestablished
October 1, 1993.
Established September 1, 1987 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with A-6E TRAM and KA-6D. Action in Desert Storm, Southern
Watch, Provide Comfort.
Received A-6E SWIP Aug 1991. Disestablished April 30, 1993.
Established Sept 1960 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Transition from A-1H to A-6A in May 1967. 5 combat cruises
to Vietnam beginning in December 1967. Added A-6B November 1969, A-6C February 1970, and KA-6D March 1971.
A-06Es replaced A-6As January 1975. Received
A-6E TRAM Jan 1981. Disestablished September 30, 1996.
Transition from A-1H to A-6A February 1969.
Became first deployable squadron to be assigned KA-6D (September 25, 1970). Operated a few A-6Cs between 1975 and 1975.
Converted to A-6E CAINS 1979 and to A-6E TRAM shortly thereafter. Combat in Urgent Fury in Grenada and in
Lebanon December 1984. Disestablished October 30, 1992.
Established at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington December 1, 1986 with A-6E TRAM and KA-6D. Moved to Atsugi, Japan September 1987.
Flew in Operation Classic Resolve in supporting Philippine government of President Corazon Aquino against a
coup attempt. Participated in Desert Storm. Disestablished August 30, 1991.
Established at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington July 15, 1948. Converted to A-6A in August 1966. Added A-6Bs
in June 1968 and KA-6Ds March 1971. 5 combat cruises to Vietnam. Received first A-6Es in July 1975.. Action in Desert Storm.
Deactivated February 28, 1997, last PACFLT squadron to fly Intruders.
Naval Air Reserve squadron established July 1, 1970 at NAS Atlanta, Georgia. Transitioned from Corsair II to Intruder
during 1990. Disestablished December 31, 1994.
Naval Air Reserve squadron established July 1, 1970 at NAS Alameda, California. Received A-6E and KA-6D July 1988, replacing A-7E. Disestablished September 17, 1994.
Established May 31, 1949 and designated VAQ-33 February 1, 1968. Received EA-6As from Marine squadron VMAQ-2 in 1979. Disestablished
Established June 1, 1991 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington from personnel and equipment of VAQ-142. Operates EA-6B
Established October 1997 with EA-6B. Previously VA-128, which served as West Coast fleet readiness squadron for A-6E.
Fleet Replacement Squadron for EA-6B. Founded as VAH-10 May 1, 1970 with A-3.
Redesignated VAQ-129 September 1, 1970.
Received first EA-6B January 1971.
Established at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington September 1, 1959 as VW-13. Redesignated VAQ-130 October 1, 1968 to
become first opererator of EA-6B. Converted to Block 86 ICAP II in 1986. Participated in Desert Storm
Established September 3, 1950 and redesignated VAQ-131 November 1, 1968. Converted from
EKA-3B to EA-6B November 1971. Participated in Desert Storm.
Established November 1, 1955 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington and redesignated VAQ-132 November 1, 1968.
Transitioned from EKA-3B to EA-6B January 15, 1971. Flew ECM support in Vietnam.
Converted to ICAP I EA-6B in 1979. Active during Desert Storm.
Established March 4, 109679 at NAS Alameda, California and transition from KA-3B/EKA-3B to EA-6B. First to receive
the EXCCAP EA-6B beginning in January 1973. Transitioned to ICAP I in 1985.
Later got the Block 86 EA-6B. Support of Operation Prove Comfort over Iraq.
Disestablished June 1, 1992. Re-established March 1996.
Established June 17, 1969 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EA-6B. Deactivated but
re-established September 1995.
Established May 15, 1969 at NAS Whidbey Island. Transitioned from EKA-3B to EA-6B September 1973.
Converted to EA-6B ICAP II November 1976. Flew support during Operation Prairie Fire. Flew electronic
support in Persian Gulf in mid-1991. Converted to ICAP II Block 86 EA-6B shortly thereafter.
Established April 6, 1973, received EA-6B October 1977. Moved from NAS Whidbey Island to Atsugi Japan
in January 1982.
Established December 14, 1973 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Participated in Operation Prairie Fire
and Desert Storm. Disestablished October 1994. Re-established October 3, 1996.
Established February 27 1976 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EXCAP EA-6B. Transitioned in 1967
tio ICAP II EA-6B and by Operation Desert Storm was operationg Block 86A ICAP II.
Established July 1, 1983 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EA-6B.
Established October 1, 1985 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EA-6B.
Established July 1, 1987 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington with EA-6B
Established June 1, 1988 at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Disestablished March 31, 1991, assets to VAQ-35. Re-established
April 1997 as joint USAF/USN unit.
Established October 1, 1977 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia with EA-6As from Marine Corps squadron VMAQ-2.
Re-equipped with EA-6B September 1990.
Moved to NAF Washington (Andrews AFB). Now the East Coast Reserve ECM squadron.
Established February 1, 1979 as Naval Air Reserve squadron at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Received EA-6As from
Marine Corps squadron VMAQ-2 in 1979,
transitioned to EA-6B December 1990.
Detachment at Albuquerque, New Mexico to carry out evaluation of Intruder.