VAQ-136 Gauntlets

 

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VAQ-136 Gauntlets

 

 

VAQ-136 Gauntlets

Command History

 

VAQ-136 Gauntlets

 

 

 

Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron ONE THREE SIX (call sign "Ironclaw") was established at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor, Washington on April 6, 1973 with four aircraft assigned. The fifth operational tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron to employ the EA-6B Prowler, VAQ-136 also has the distinction of being the first squadron to be formed with no heritage passed down from a previous Naval Aviation squadron or unit.

 

VAQ-136 was the first VAQ squadron which enthusiastically embraced and actually trained for the end-to-end escort role for which the aircraft was designed, rather than the much safer stand-off jamming role that had been the norm until that time. It was the first squadron to fly the EA-6B with the higher-thrust Pratt and Whitney P-408 engines and the first to be equipped with the Martin Baker rocket ejection seat with a zero speed -zero altitude capability.

Perhaps most unusual, it was the only squadron in VAQ history to employ enlisted aircrew as electronic warfare system operators. These men were all very senior electronic warfare rates of at least E-6 rank, and while primarily assigned to the fourth (communications jamming position) seat, actually were trained to occupy and perform every role on the aircraft serving as navigators and command electronic warfare system operators.

Since their establishment in 1973, the VAQ-136 Gauntlets have integrated rapidly into several Carrier Air Wings. Ten weeks after commissioning the Gauntlets went to sea for the first time with CVW-11 aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63 on a WESTPAC cruise. In February 1975, VAQ-136 departed CONUS for her second deployment to WESTPAC, again aboard the Kitty Hawk.

In 1977, after preliminary work-ups at NAS Fallon, the Gauntlets joined CVW-7 aboard the USS Independence, CV-62 and set sail for the Mediterranean. This was the last Standard Version EA-6B deployment. During this deployment, the Gauntlets innovatively equipped their Standard Prowlers with EXCAP pods. Upon returning to Whidbey Island, they transitioned to the ICAP (Improved Capabilities) version of the EA-6B. After transition training was complete, the Gauntlets sailed to the Mediterranean again on October 3, 1978, this time with CVW-3 on the USS Saratoga, CV-60. VAQ-136 provided tactical electronic warfare support for the Sixth Fleet, NATO and allied countries, returning from deployment in April 1979.

In 1979, a week after returning from the Mediterranean, a command went out: VAQ-136 Gauntlets would be taking on a new air wing and an overseas home in Yokosuka, Japan aboard USS Midway (CV-41) with Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5). Preparing to join Midway/CVW-5, the Gauntlets conducted work-up training that included detachments for a Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base and carrier refresher training aboard USS Coral Sea, CV-43, USS Ranger, CV-61 and USS Constellation, CV-64. On February 23, 1980, the Gauntlets departed Whidbey Island commencing a TRANSPAC to Japan that began the longest deployment in Prowler history. The first "Ironclaw" sighted Mount Fuji on February 29, 1980. Although their homeport became Yokosuka, VAQ-136 and CVW-5 were based at NAF Atsugi, 35 miles south of Tokyo.

Since coming to Japan, the Gauntlets, dubbed "Jammers of WESTPAC", have made deployments to the North Arabian Sea, countless WESTPAC mini cruises and have participated in numerous intraservice shore based exercises.

VAQ-136's first major deployment with CVW-5 began 14 July 1980. Highlights of this Indian Ocean cruise included port calls to Mombassa, Kenya and the Philippines. USS Midway spent 90 days on "Gonzo Station", returning home to Yokosuka, Japan on 26 November 1980.

The second Indian Ocean cruise aboard USS Midway began on 24 February 1981. Visits to Singapore, the Philippines, and Perth, and participation in BEACON COMPASS, a joint United States/Australian exercise, were the highlights of the cruise before returning to Yokosuka on 5 June 1981.

In 1982 the Gauntlets found themselves again deeply involved in COPE THUNDER, a joint US Navy/Air Force exercise, in the Philippines followed by shore based operations in support of USS Coral Sea in the Sea of Japan. Shortly thereafter the squadron was in the Sea of Japan themselves participating in Exercise TEAM SPIRIT '82. In May the squadron and Midway were involved in READEX 82, a three-carrier battle group exercise including USS Ranger and USS Constellation.

The Association of Old Crows awarded VAQ-136 a Unit Citation for accomplishments in the field of electronic warfare during the summer of 1982. During the Midway's fall 1982 deployment to NORPAC, the Sea of Japan and South China Sea, the Gauntlets received tasking from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to move all aircraft, assets and personnel to USS America, CV-66 and conduct operations in the Indian Ocean. In late January 1983, VAQ-136 executed an unprecedented 8,300 mile cross deck deployment from NAF Atsugi, Japan to the meet USS America and CVW-1 in the Indian Ocean. During their three months with Carrier Air Wing One, VAQ-136 operated with several NATO forces and participated in two BEACON FLASH exercises. The Gauntlets returned to Japan in May 1983. For operations with the America Battle Group, VAQ-136 earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation. VAQ-136 was runner-up for the Battle Efficiency Award (Battle "E"), Radford and Golden Anchor Awards.

Happily rejoined with the Midway and CVW-5, summer 1983 found VAQ-136 again providing tactical electronic warfare support to Battle Group Alpha. In September the squadron very successfully participated in Exercise COPE THUNDER 83-7 at Clark AFB, Philippines. In 1984, the Gauntlets experienced a record setting 111-day Indian Ocean at-sea period.

The Gauntlets flew off the Midway on 24 March 1986 back to CONUS while the Midway went through modifications to allow the F/A-18 Hornet to operate from her. In October the squadron TRANSPAC'd back with the rest of CVW-5 to NAF Atsugi and the newly refurbished Midway. They arrived with new Prowlers, having traded in their old ones for newer and upgraded ICAP II versions.

The Gauntlet's first cruise after returning to the Midway occurred on 9 January 1987, a three month WESTPAC. Later in 1988, VAQ-136 were part of Midway's cruise to support the Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

1989 through 1990 saw two more Indian Ocean cruises and one another WESTPAC cruise.

The culmination of a decade of hard work was evidenced by the Gauntlets being awarded the COMNAVAIRPAC Battle Efficiency Award (Battle "E") and the Safety "S" in 1989.

On April 16, 1990, as part of the COPE THUNDER exercise, the Gauntlets fired a live High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (AGM-88 HARM) at a U.S. Air Force radar off the coast of the Philippines. It was the first HARM fired in WESTPAC and the exercise was a great success. The missile completely destroyed its target and foreshadowed things to come in the Gauntlet's future.

VAQ-136 began supporting Operation DESERT SHIELD on October 10, 1990. On January 16, 1991, the Gauntlets were the first Prowler squadron to fly a strike against Iraq in support of Operation DESERT STORM. During the 43-day war against Iraq, the Gauntlets flew four aircraft for a total of 466.9 hours in combat and fired 28 HARM missiles. The Gauntlets successfully suppressed the enemy's air defenses ensuring that CVW-5 did not lose a single aircraft to enemy fire. The Gauntlets proved that the Prowler is an indispensable part of the Navy's attack team.

In August 1991 the Midway left Yokosuka, Japan for the last time to be decommissioned. Between August 22 ~ 27, CVW-5 transferred from the Midway to the USS Independence, CV-62 at Pearl Harbor in what is known as "The Great Carrier Air Wing SwapEx". VAQ-136 left their four older aircraft and took over the five newer ones waiting for them on the Independence.

In the spring of 1992, the Gauntlets set out on cruise with the Independence and became the first Prowler squadron to fly in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. For their role in setting up Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, the Gauntlets received the Pacific Fleet Battle "E" award for 1992, their second such award. In addition, the Gauntlets received the Radford Award for being the best EA-6B squadron in the Navy, the Association of Old Crows Outstanding Unit Award, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation.

In 1993, a TEAM SPIRIT exercise with Korea, Spring Training in Australia, and ANNUALEX off the coast of Japan filled the early part of the year as the Gauntlets readied themselves for another deployment in the fall. Once again, the Gauntlets sailed to the Persian Gulf to take up arms over the skies of Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. After returning home for a brief stay, the Gauntlets were underway again in the spring of 1994, this time participating in the multi-national RIMPAC exercise. That summer saw the Gauntlets supporting U.S. policy during intense North Korean Contingency Operations. The Gauntlets remained busy through the rest of the year making training detachments to Guam, Korea, and Misawa, Japan. This busy schedule resulted in VAQ-136 being named the "Prowler Squadron of the Year for Tactical Excellence" for 1994.

The Gauntlets spent 1995 on the move. Starting with operations in the Yellow Sea, the Gauntlets proceeded south to participate in Exercise COBRA GOLD off the coast of Thailand. Fall saw the squadron in the Middle East yet again participating in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Following the successful conclusion of their Persian Gulf excursion, the Gauntlets were awarded the COMNAVAIRPAC Battle "E" (third award), and Safety "S" (second award) for 1995.

1996 was a busy year. Starting in February with Yellow Sea operations and a visit to the Philippines, including operations around Taiwan to deter Chinese aggression. The Gauntlets departed on a RIMPAC deployment to both the Philippines and Hawaii. Following a short break, they returned to sea in September, visiting Hong Kong while in the South China Sea. Prior to returning to Yokosuka in mid-November for the holidays, the Independence-Air Wing 5 team participated in FOAL EAGLE, a coordinated exercise with South Korea, and ANNUALEX, a combined JMSDF, USAF, USN, and USMC exercise.

Early in 1997 the Independence commenced a four month cruise, transiting to Guam, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and then Hong Kong, the last U.S. carrier to port there before the reversion to Chinese control. Of course, the Gauntlets were aboard and routinely performed their electronic wizardry in support of such exercises as TANDEM THRUST, with the Australians, Merlion, with Malaysia, and COBRA GOLD, with the Thai armed forces, returning home in June.

In January 1998 the Gauntlets once more answered their nations call, this time demonstrating the capability of the forward-deployed naval forces in an emergency no-notice deployment to the Persian Gulf. Just fifteen days after receiving the order, the Gauntlets went from holiday routine to fully carrier qualified and underway to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. After forcing Iraq to comply with United Nations weapons inspection teams, the Gauntlets returned home for a brief respite before getting underway again in July, this time to Hawaii for RIMPAC 98 and to cross-deck onto their new home the USS Kitty Hawk, CV-63. Returning to Japan in August 1998, the Gauntlets received the news that they had won the Safety "S" (third award) for the first half of calendar year 98. Never willing to slow down, the Gauntlets returned to sea once again on the last day of September this time in support of exercise FOAL EAGLE and COPE NORTH before returning to Japan in mid November to close out another successful year.

In January 1999, VAQ-136 was awarded the 1998 COMNAVAIRPAC Battle "E" (fourth award). This significant award is given to the most combat-ready squadron in the Electronic Attack Community and is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the Gauntlets. On March 2, 1999, VAQ-136 and the Kitty Hawk Battle Group departed Yokosuka, Japan for three months of routine operations and exercises in the Western Pacific. The Gauntlets participated in the multi-national and multi-service exercise TANDEM THRUST off the island of Guam. The Kitty Hawk was ordered to the Persian Gulf as actions in the world became heated, therefore extending the three-month deployment to six months. VAQ-136 began flying sorties in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH within 24 hours of arriving to the Persian Gulf on April 20. Over the following eleven weeks, the Gauntlets flew 115 combat sorties over the skies of Iraq. When the Kitty Hawk pulled into Dubai, UAE, for several days of liberty, the Gauntlets were tasked to provide uninterrupted Electronic Warfare support for coalition aircraft flying from Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia, for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. During the short detachment, VAQ-136 demonstrated true professionalism and efficiency as the Gauntlets maintained a 100% sortie completion rate. On June 17, 1999, the Kitty Hawk and CVW-5 departed the Persian Gulf for several well-deserved port visits to Perth, Australia, and Pattaya, Thailand. This deployment marked the second time the forward-deployed carrier had been to the Persian Gulf in the past year. During the fall, the Gauntlets participated in the annual exercise FOAL EAGLE and ANNUALEX, with ROK, JMSDF, and US combined forces.

Starting in April 2000, the Gauntlets spent two months at sea flying 184 Sorties for 298.7 hours and 250 traps. During that period VAQ-136 took part in COBRA GOLD, a multi-national exercise including the US and Thailand forces. The Gauntlets spent fall 2000 in the Sea of Japan for two months, again participating in FOAL EAGLE. October was a banner month with a total of 152 sorties flown, accumulating 265.7 hours and 154 traps.

The Gauntlets started 2001 with a detachment to the historical island of Iwo Jima for Field Carrier Landing Practice. The beginning of March found the Gauntlets underway in the South China Sea and wasting no time, engaged in Exercise MERLION with Singapore and Exercise COBRA GOLD with Thailand. Early May brought TANDEM THRUST, an exercise with the Australian Armed Forces.
 

After a four-year absence from the Persian Gulf, VAQ-136 returned with style. On January 23, 2003 VAQ-136 and the Kitty Hawk Battle Group left Japan for a deployment that involved support to Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The U.S. Navyís 2002 Prowler Maintenance Squadron of the Year proved its mettle once again, as Gauntlet aircraft demonstrated both their dependability and formidability in the skies above Iraq. The Gauntlets flew more than 500 hours and 117 combat missions in 26 days, launched six AGM-88 HARM missiles, and provided valuable electronic protection for coalition aircraft in the skies above Iraq.

The Gauntlets also logged 1,000 hours on their modified Night Vision Devices (NVDs), which filter ambient light to increase a pilotís visibility while flying at night. Gauntlet parachute riggers and aviation electricians performed this modification to allow aircrew to visually acquire other aircraft, and avoid Iraqi surface to air missiles, rockets, and anti-aircraft artillery. VAQ-136 aircrew flew missions in excess of six hours, often within a single flight, flexing from Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) to Electronic Attack Close Air Support and coverage for Special Operations Forces.

The Gauntlets flew extended missions that directly supported the insertion of Special Operations Forces on the Al Faw peninsula, which was important in achieving control of the southern Iraqi oil fields. They were airborne during the first strikes on Baghdad, and along with a section of F-14 Tomcats, penetrated further northwest than any other aircraft on "A-day," the first official day of the air war. Almost three weeks later, they were again airborne when Baghdad fell to coalition ground forces.

These feats were accomplished due to the Gauntlet maintainers, who worked around the clock to ensure the mission readiness of their Prowler aircraft. As an example of their effectiveness, one aircraft was over Iraq shooting HARMs only one day after a discrepancy-free Functional Check Flight (FCF). FCF's are done after an aircraft has received extensive maintenance that requires it be flown through various flight profiles before it can be certified combat ready. On several occasions, four of the five Prowlers were "over the beach" at the same time with fully operable weapons and self-protection systems due to the hard work and dedication of every Gauntlet maintainer. The squadron returned home to Japan on May 06, 2003.
 

Throughout it's thirty-three year history, VAQ-136 has been committed to excellence in every way, maintaining a prominent position in the Electronic Attack community. The "Jammers of WESTPAC" remain dedicated to continued service with Kitty Hawk and CVW-5 in support of national commitments. VAQ-136 continues to maintain a prominent position in the Tactical Electronic Warfare community by their outstanding accomplishments and advancements "at the Tip of the Sword."

 

 

 

REFERENCES:
U.S. Navy
VAQ-136 Gauntlets official web site (The original version, which no longer exists)

VAQ-136 Gauntlets Official Web Site (Current version, as of June 17, 2006)

Three years of personally being there from January 1989 through January 1992

 

 

VAQ-136 Gauntlets

 

 

 

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