Prowling Over Al Anbar

At noisy Al Asad air base, the noisiest jets belong to Marine Electronic Attack Squadron 1. It's hard not to notice the squadron's EA-6B Prowlers, but don't get caught looking. While touring the hangars of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332, my escort and I walked past the Prowlers and caught the evil eye from some aircrew returning from a mission.Marine_air_2.jpgWhat exactly the Prowlers are doing in Iraq is classified -- and even 332's fliers don't know for sure. My feeling is that it's got something to do with improvised explosive devices or communications intelligence. The Prowlers are packed with sensitive radio receivers and carry electronic noise jammers under their wings.If the EA-6Bs are indeed jamming IEDs, they wouldn't be the only U.S. aircraft doing so. The EC-130 Compass Call has also been pressed into fight against IEDs. On one March patrol with the 25th Infantry Division in Qayyarah, I watched the Compass Call make a pass overhead, wiping out all radio reception in its path.Replacement of the 30-year-old Prowlers -- the only fast EW platforms in the U.S. inventory -- is a top priority. The Navy has picked the EA-18G Growler, a development of the F/A-18F Super Hornet to replace its EA-6Bs, but the Marines have yet to name a successor. There have been rumors [ confirmed ed.] of an electronic warfare suite in the Marines' version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the vertical-landing F-35B . But it might prove hard adapting a single-seat jet to a mission currently performed by a jet seating four.-- David Axe

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