Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.
We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”
They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.
Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.
And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.
First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.
Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.
No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.
In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.
Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.
But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.
Further, EA-6B BuNo. 162230/CY-02, part of the Sundown Flight, will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
When Saddam crossed into Kuwait in August 1990 and sparked the Operation Desert Shield build-up to defend Saudi Arabia, the first “armor” on the ground were 51 Sheridans of the 82nd Airborne. The first real tanks were composed of M60A1 RISE tanks, then an outdated design that could still hold its own, of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade which had flown in from California and married up with Maritime Pre-Positioning Force equipment by 25 August. Over the next several months, most of the armor battalions in the Marines would arrive to man the gun line in the desert.
Some 27 years ago today, on 24 February 1991, after 39 days of a “Shock and Awe (™)” air campaign, the U.S.-led coalition began to liberate Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and methodically destroy most of Hussein’s army, then the 4th largest army in the world. Some 100 hours later and it was all over.
The Marines, notably, had more armor in the desert than the British, who shipped 170 Challenger tanks from Europe.
From the U.S. Army Armor & Cavalry Collection:
As current Marine Tankers train here at the U.S. Army Armor School, their history is part of our focus too. Though not an actual part of our collection (it’s Marine property), we assist in taking care of this special M60A1 RISE Passive. This exact tank was the personal mount of Lieutenant Colonel “Buster” Diggs, commander of the 3rd Tank Battalion, U.S.M.C., during Operation Desert Storm. While the older M60A1 lacked thermal sights and had a 105mm M68 main gun compared to the newer M1A1’s 120mm M256 main gun, the Marine M60’s performed just as well against Iraqi-manned Soviet-built T-72s. Of the 210 Marine M60A1s involved in the 100-hours offensive, none were lost to enemy fire. Today, “Buster” guards the headquarters of the U. S. Marine Corps Detachment, Fort Benning
The Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 hosted a sundown service for the Charlie series F/A-18 last week. The Blasters were the last tactical squadron in the Navy flying the bird, most recently wrapping up a final deployment on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the South China Sea in 2018.
“Today our VFA-34 family and the operational farewells an old friend,” said Cmdr. William Mathis, commanding officer of VFA-34. “Born more than 40 years ago, the Hornet entered operational service for the U.S. Navy in 1984 and for the next 35 years, she proudly served the nation from the flight deck of aircraft carriers in all the seas across the globe.”
Now the only guys left operating the F-18C model are aggressor units such as the Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 12 and the River Rattlers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204.
Oh yeah, and the Blues, who are set to transition to the Super Hornet in coming months.
And totally neglected air units such as the USMC guys, who will keep the F-18C around until 2030 (ish).
Flying Yesterday’s Hornet, Tomorrow!
While the U.S. Marine Corps, as everyone knows, dates back to Tun Tavern in 1775, their Romanian equivalent– Regimentul 307 Infanterie Marină (Forțele Navale Române) — was only formed in 1975 by that country’s Black Sea-based navy.
Originally just a battalion-sized force that emulated the Soviet Naval Infantry with the goal of raiding the Turkish coast in WWIII-type conflict involving the Warsaw Pact vs NATO, it has evolved over time to a full regiment and has been involved in a series of mentoring exercises with Western marine units such as that of the Dutch Korps Mariniers, the British RM and, of course, the Devils. Heck, they even deployed to Kosovo as part of KFOR in 2008-9.
Below is a good comparison from a 2017 exercise between the 24th MEU and the 307th that shows both a Romanian naval infantry sailor and an American Leatherneck at Capu Midia
Romanian Sailor Cpl. Pintilie Madalina:
Note the M2002 pattern camo, which is a Romanian version of British DPM (and is being replaced by a new pixilated camo) and her Cugir-made
PA md . 86 underfolder in 5.45x39mm 7.62x39mm PM md. 65 (thanks, Alex!) akin to the old school AKMS, complete with the distinctive Romanian “dong” wooden fore end.
Now contrast her with Marine Capt. Rebecca Bergstedt, officer in charge of the 24th Marine Expeditionary (MEU), Unit Female Engagement Team.
Still, I wouldn’t want to fight either one.
A few years ago the Navy put together a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) built around just 250 Marines with a quartet of four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. Deployed to Central America in a series of joint exercises and nation-building projects under Southern Command, they spent six months underway.
In recent months, a few additional pages in the same book have been added.
Sailors and Marines assigned to Littoral Combat Group One (LCG-1) just returned to Hawaii after spending six months in the Eastern Pacific– an area that sees few USN deployments. Consisting of just two-three vessels– USS Somerset (LPD 25) and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), along with the occasional support of the oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) — they embarked the 300~ Marine SPMAGTF-Peru augmented by Coast Guard LEDETs, the latter to perform stops on narco subs prone to the region. They conducted ops and exercises with partners in Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
Air assets on Somerset included at least two CH-53Es, assigned to the “Heavy Haulers” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 462 and a couple UH-1Y Hueys assigned to the “Vipers” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 169.
Moving past the LSG and SPMAGTF’s, there was the single-vessel Task Force Koa Moana 2018.
Using a company-sized force of Marines embarked aboard USNS GySgt Fred W. Stockham (T-AK-3017), an MSC-manned Shughart-class container & roll-on roll-off support vessel, the 55,000-ton prepositioned supply ship sailed around the Pacific, stopping at a string of islands from Tahiti to Palau, Tinian and Guam, performing joint operations with local governments and French military assets (Tahiti is still a Paris-controlled colony, after all.)
As described by the USNI, “TF Koa Moana included 130 members from the West Coast-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, officials said, plus fly-in detachments of Marines and Navy personnel from Okinawa, Japan, and Guam.”
Sure, they aren’t units capable of forcing a beach against a top-tier enemy, but, besides disaster response, LE support, training, and humanitarian missions, groups such as these–if needed– could probably pull off TRAP recoveries, non-combatant evacuations, and FAST-team style legation reinforcements, which in the end, can help take up the slack from overworked Amphibious Ready Groups and Carrier Task Forces.
Just keep them out of harm’s way in contested areas as this could be a way to get a handful of guys in a lot of trouble, fast.
Saint Mattis of Quantico, Patron Saint of Chaos, Gen. James Mattis, USMC, (Ret.) has tendered his resignation letter as the 26th United States Secretary of Defense after some 700 days in the barrel. He was the first career military man (42 years on active duty, including command of 1st MARDIV in the Iraq War) since Gen. George Marshall to hold the position since it was established in 1947, and by all accounts a modern warrior poet. Hard to fathom who will replace him.
“During the Civil War, from 1 January 1861 through 30 June 1866, the national government purchased:
3,477,655 muskets, rifles, carbines, and pistols,
544,475 swords, sabers, and lances,
2,146,175 complete sets of infantry accouterments,
1,022,176,474 small arms cartridges, and
1,220,555,435 caps for small arms.” – Hartzler, Yantz & Whisker.
An impressive amount of munitions for any military of any age. When you take into account that the peacetime strength of the U.S. Army in 1860 was 16,000 and the Marines just another 3,500, it is even more so.