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Electronic Attack Wing Pacific

Command History

The history of Navy carrier-based electronic attack started late in World War II when a number of Torpedo (VT) Squadrons installed electronic receivers and rudimentary jammers into selected Eastern Aircraft TBM-3E Avengers to locate and jam Japanese air search radars. In late 1945, the Navy directed that these aircraft be designated as TBM-3Qs, with the “Q” suffix denoting radio/radar countermeasures equipment. Over 60 Avengers were modified into “-3Qs” and deployed with carriers in the immediate post-war period.

Replacement of the Avenger was not long in coming as the Navy procured 18 Martin AM-1Q Maulers and 35 Douglas AD-1Q Skyraiders from 1947 to take over the mission. While the Martin design rapidly turned into a dead end, the superlative Douglas “Able Dog” Skyraider became the standard Navy attack aircraft and the service subsequently bought 83 AD-2Q, AD-3Q and AD-4Q aircraft.  These were the aircraft that fought the Korean War electronically, with the primary threat being gun-fire control radars. They were also true “electronic attack” aircraft as they carried the same bomb load as their siblings and routinely participated in strikes alongside the other Skyraiders. At least eight of these “Q-Birds” were lost in the Korean theater, several to enemy fire.

With the end of the Korean War the Navy went through a short period of reduction in its electronic warfare forces and in January of 1954 there were only about 50 “Q” configured Skyraiders in the entire fleet.  It would not be until 1956-57 that the service started to rebuild its airborne EW forces again, and this time it chose to modify 55 AD-5N night-attack Skyraiders into EW platforms as AD-5Qs.       

At the start of the Vietnam War the Navy had only two electronic attack squadrons, Alameda’s VAW-13 and VAW-33 (the former VAAW-33) in Rhode Island.  The rapid entry into combat in Southeast Asia quickly proved the necessity of modern electronic attack aircraft and trained aircrew.  The Douglas A-3 Skywarrior was chosen to be the next generation electronic attack platform and 39 KA-3B tankers were modified with receiver and jamming equipment to become EKA-3Bs.  The EKA-3B was introduced into combat in 1967 and completely replaced the EA-1F by the end of 1969.

The new and critical role of electronic warfare led to the Navy vastly increasing the size of the community in 1968-1969 as it completely reorganized its structure and formed an entirely new and distinct Electronic Attack community. On 1 Feb 1968, Quonset Point’s VAW-33 became the first Tactical Electronic Warfare (VAQ) Squadron in the Navy as it was redesignated VAQ-33.  Seven months later a distinct EW Functional Wing was established at Alameda when VAQWING-13 was formed and VAW-13 was redesignated VAQ-130. Five more squadrons were created from two former Heavy Attack (VAH) units that were moved down from Whidbey Island WA and from three of VAQ-130’s detachments. By the end of 1969 the Navy had six squadrons flying EKA-3B Skywarriors out of Alameda, VAQ-130 through 135.  Back on the East Coast, VAQ-33 would fly the EA-1F into 1969 before becoming a land-based “Electronic Aggressor” squadron for the newly minted Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group (FEWSG).

While the EKA-3B flew combat in Vietnam, the Navy was already looking at its replacement. Working with the Grumman Corporation, they developed a stretched derivative of the existing Marine EA-6A “Electric Intruder.”  The new four-seat aircraft was soon dubbed Prowler, and it first flew in 1969 in a version known as a Basic, or Standard.

On Whidbey Island the former VAH-10 had been re-designated VAQ-129 in September 1970 and it deployed EKA-3Bs to the war zone through 1971. Back home the squadron was becoming the first EA-6B Fleet Readiness Squadron (FRS). In spite of these advances, the Navy still did not have a VAQ unit in every Air Wing. Prowler squadrons were typically changing ships and wings after every cruise, frequently with only a few months or even weeks between deployments. VAQ- 138 was established in 1976 and it would not be until 1983 that VAQ-139 was formed. VAQ-140 followed in 1985 and VAQ-141 two years later.  Finally, in June 1988, the final ‘new’ squadron was created as the Grim Watchdogs of VAQ-142 were established. It had taken roughly 20 years, but the Navy finally had one VAQ for every air wing. The Marines gained EA-6Bs in 1977 and have been flying them ever since. Three Reserve squadrons, VAQ-209, -309 and VMAQ-4 adopted the type during the 1980s and ‘90s.

Between 1974 and 1991, the Prowler participated in multiple crises, including Libya, Iran, and Grenada. As of January 1991 the EA-6B force was at its apogee, with about 140 aircraft covering the FRS, 13 Navy fleet outfits, three reserve units and the one large Marine squadron (VMAQ-2).  Following significant combat in Operation Desert Storm there were reductions in forces that would impact the EA-6B community with the disestablishment of four units (VAQ-133, 137, 142, 309). A new, improved version of the EA-6B, the “Advanced Capability” (ADVCAP), was cancelled as well.

On 1 February 1993, as a result of the disestablishment of the combined A-6 and EA-6B functional wing (COMMATVAQWINGPAC), the Electronic Combat Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMVAQWINGPAC) was established.  The command was later re-designated Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet in 1998.

In 1995 the Navy and Marines assumed the role as joint force provider for airborne electronic warfare as the Air Force retired its stable of EF-111A Ravens. The Navy subsequently expanded again, by transitioning VAQ-134 to the role and establishing three new “Expeditionary” units, VAQ-128, 133, and 142, to help cover those requirements.  VAQ-137 returned as a fleet squadron during this period. The Marines had cloned VMAQ-2 into two other squadrons (VMAQ-1 and 3) and moved Reserve VMAQ-4 into the Regulars.  It was with these units that the EA-6B continued in combat over places like the Balkans, Iraq (again) and Afghanistan.

VAQ-139 introduced the new ICAP III version, with the superlative ALQ-218 receiver system, to the fleet in 2005.  In June 2008, the Boeing Company delivered the first new type aircraft to VAQ-129 in over thirty years as the EA-18G Growler reported aboard Whidbey Island. Based on the combat-proven Block II F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler represented the next generation of Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA). In 2015, the final squadron to fly the venerable Prowler, the Garudas of VAQ-134, completed their transition to the EA-18G. 
 
The mission of the Electronic Attack Wing is to provide administrative, training, and maintenance support to all assigned Electronic Attack Squadrons, ensuring they are combat ready, well maintained, fully supported and properly manned. Additionally, as a result of the U.S. Air Force’s decommissioning of the EF-111 aircraft, COMVAQWINGPAC’s mission has been expanded to include operational control of four Expeditionary Growler squadrons in direct support of the Department of Defense’s tactical airborne electronic attack mission. 

As of 2018, the Growler force structure stands at nine Navy squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wings (including one forward-deployed to Seventh Fleet), four in the expeditionary role, one Naval Reserve squadron, one Marine unit, and the FRS, VAQ-129, totaling 129 aircraft and 3,700 personnel. The Growler remains a critical “Low Density/High Demand” asset for Combatant Commanders worldwide and, frequently, a required asset for mission success.  The men and women maintaining and flying the EA-18G “Growler” aircraft have deployed from NAS Whidbey Island around the world, providing the world’s premier electronic attack capability to each aircraft carrier in the United States Navy and to land-based sites such as Iwakuni, Japan; Aviano, Italy; Incirlik, Turkey; Saudi Arabia; Baghram, Afghanistan and Al Asad, Iraq.

Comprised of 35 officers, 72 enlisted personnel and 56 civilians, COMVAQWINGPAC has a long-standing record of providing outstanding support services and operational oversight to the Electronic Attack community and respective Carrier Air Wings. COMVAQWINGPAC is proud of the flawless performance of fully combat ready EA-18G squadrons contributing to the United States global strategy and electronic attack mission for Operations ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and INHERENT RESOLVE.

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