Skip to comments.Navy using radar-jamming planes to fire missiles in risky new strategy
Posted on 03/29/2003 11:37:36 PM PST by HAL9000
ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK (AP) - Slow-moving and packed with electronic equipment, the Prowler radar-jamming plane usually stays clear of battle. But with the campaign against Baghdad's defenses heating up, the Prowlers are joining in the strikes.
It's a risk for the vulnerable aircraft, but their crews say they've been eager to get into the fight.
"It's about time," said Lt. Doug Graber, an electronic warfare officer who was on a EA-6B Prowler that fired a missile Saturday -- the second strike by a Prowler from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in two days.
Prowlers usually stay in the background of the battle, roaming the skies for hours and throwing down a broad blanket jamming radar on the ground to support the bomb-laden Navy and Air Force warplanes flying to their targets.
With four crew members in each plane and a top speed of 620 mph -- much slower than the supersonic strike fighters -- the craft is a more of a target for gunners on the ground.
Still, they carry a number of High Speed Anti-Radar Missiles, or HARMs. And they have been called on to use them as air strikes increase against the Iraqi Republican Guard units defending the capital ahead of an expected U.S.-led ground assault.
The Kitty Hawk's "Gauntlets" Prowler squadron fired its first HARM Friday night. It was a pre-planned strike, designed to protect two F/A-18 Hornets from a surface-to-air missile post near the fighters' assigned targets, said Lt. Rob Fluck, 27, who flew in both Friday and Saturday's missions.
The next day's strike was a surprise, said Fluck. While flying its standard radar-jamming mission, the Prowler got the order to fire in support of Hornets striking targets close to Baghdad.
"We kind of have a special mission, where we go out there and just kind of hang out in a place," the electronic warfare officer from Syracuse, N.Y., said. "Today we got tasked over the radio, `Hey, we need this here,' and we did it."'
Some squadron commanders have recently pushed for a greater share of the action over Iraq, said Graber, 30, from South Bound Brook, N.J.
"A lot of the worry is that they want to keep such a valuable jet away from any kind of threat," he said. "But we've gotten a lot more active lately."
The HARMs, which have a much smaller warhead than general purpose bombs, fix on a target after they have been dropped from a plane. On-board sensors search for radar "noise" and home in on the strongest signal, directing the missile toward the radar emission and detonating at the source. First built in the mid-1980s, HARMs were used extensively by NATO forces during the Kosovo conflict.
"We fire the missile out there and basically it is a pit bull just waiting for somebody to their arm out of leg out ... and it will sick right in on them," Fluck said.
But experts warn that HARMs are more likely to strike the wrong target than laser-guided bombs because the tracking system can become confused by heavy radar traffic or can hone in on the wrong radar frequency, including "friendly" emissions. Unlike laser-guided bombs, pilots do not steer HARMs onto their target.
Fluck said neither Prowler crew that fired on Friday or Saturday saw their missile hit.
The missile strikes bring the Prowler's role closer to that of the fighter and bombers pounding Iraqi targets to Baghdad's immediate south for more than a week. The barrage has targeted artillery, tanks, command posts and other targets of the Republican Guard to soften the approach for U.S. ground troops.
Carrier-based fighter pilots have been making the roughly 300-mile flight to the area, then getting targets from forward controllers and striking with laser-guided, satellite-guided and unguided bombs in missions lasting around three hours. The Prowlers generally spend about six hours flying around the same area during a radar-jamming mission.
Friday's missile was the first HARM the squadron had fired since 1997, said Lt. j.g. Brendan Sticks, 25, from Glen Rock, N.J., the pilot of Saturday's mission.
Sticks joined the squadron less than four weeks ago.
"He showed up here and listened to everybody complain about how we don't shoot HARM," said Graber. "He showed up and right away, here's the war and we're shooting HARM. He can't understand why we were all complaining."
Lt. Jim Lockard, of Houston, Tx., checks out a AGM-88 HARM missile loaded on the wing of his EA-6B Prowler as he does a pre-flight check on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Gulf, Thursday March 27, 2003. The HARM missile is an air-to-surface weapon designed to seek out and destroy enemy radar-equipped air defense systems. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
did anybody see the movie flight of the intruder?
Well, I suppose Tom Daschale is deeply saddened to learn this.
One could say Baghdad got "Flucked" on that mission.