Marines Deploy EA-6B Prowler Aircraft to Turkey amid Anti-Air Threats

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The deployment of Marine EA-6B Prowler jammer planes to Turkey came amid growing concerns about the potential anti-aircraft threat from ISIS and other militant groups in Syria.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed Thursday that its "air defense" fighters had downed a Syrian government warplane in the southern Syrian province of Suwayda. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in London, said the pilot safely ejected and was not captured.

Last week, Syria's military reported that one of its warplanes had been shot down by a missile allegedly fired by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front. The captured pilot was later shown in an Al Nusra propaganda video and identified as Col. Khaled Saeed.

The U.S. has yet to lose a pilot since the air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria began in Augsst 2014 but the U.S. has also denied repeated requests from militia groups it supports in Syria for shoulder-fired missiles, or "manpads."

In a video briefing to the Pentagon on Wednesday, Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for combined Joint task force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that the U.S. only supplies ammunition and small arms to the groups it supports in Syria and has rejected requests for shoulder-fired missiles to counter Syrian and Russian air attacks.

However, several news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, have reported that the CIA was lobbying to provide the U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria with more advanced weaponry, including shoulder-fired missiles, for use against the Russian-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if the current "cessation of hostilities" talks in Geneva fail.

The four-seat Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler, the electronics warfare version of the old A-6 Intruder, was designed to jam enemy radars but has been used in Iraq to disrupt enemy communications and counter improvised explosive devices.

The Navy retired its Prowlers last year in favor of the EA-18G Growler, the electronics warfare version of the FA-18 Super Hornet, but the Marine Corps expects to continue flying the Prowlers through 2019.

The Marine Prowlers from U.S European Command arrived at the Incuirlik airbase in Turkey on Wednesday, the command said in a statement.

Using another acronym for ISIS, the command said that the Prowlers from Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4 (VMAQ-4) would "support electronic attack requirements associated with ongoing counter-ISIL operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve."

The command didn't say how many of the aircraft deployed but a Prowler squadron usually numbers six aircraft. The deployment was expected to last through September.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.