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East Coast Prowler squadron ‘HARM’ful during stay at Yuma

By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon | | April 3, 2008

In a rare training opportunity, a visiting Marine squadron specializing in electronic warfare launched eight radar-seeking missiles March 28-29 at targets in the Pacific Ocean after its planes launched from here.

The high-speed, anti-radiation missile, or HARM, is the only weapon fired by the Marine Corps’ EA-6B Prowler jet. A pilot may only shoot one in training every few years.

So, when Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 learned they could fire eight missiles, the Cherry Point, N.C.,-based unit couldn’t have asked for more valuable training.

“This is great preparation for real-world contingencies,” said Maj. Glen Cauley, VMAQ-1’s executive officer.

The HARM homes in on electromagnetic radiation given off by enemy radars and anti-aircraft weapons and destroys those targets.

Outside of combat, Yuma’s Weapons and Tactics Instructor course offers Prowler crews one of their only chances to fire live HARMs. Organizing a shoot poses numerous logistical challenges including building mock radar sites on barges and placing them in the ocean.

Typically, electronic warfare squadrons practice with training HARMs that “talk” back and forth with cockpit controls but don’t actually leave the Prowler’s wing, said 1st Lt. George M. Ureke, electronic countermeasures officer.

Besides the officers flying in the four-seater Prowlers, the squadron’s 11 enlisted ordnance technicians who loaded the HARMs on the ground also gained new experience.

Aviation ordnance Marines all attend the same basic schools, but the weapons they work with on a routine basis depend on the aircraft used by the squadrons they are assigned to. For VMAQ squadrons, ordnance techs usually load HARM simulators and electronic jamming pods, rarely live missiles.

The opportunity helped to develop the junior Marines for future assignments working with other aircraft, said Staff Sgt. Lisa M. Rasmusson, ordnance chief.

With the squadron preparing to deploy to Iraq later this year, its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Shane B. Conrad, said the training was vital since it allowed nearly everyone in the unit a chance to work with real HARMs before heading overseas.

Besides the eight HARMs fired by VMAQ-1 pilots, local WTI instructors in the pilot seat fired an additional four from the squadron’s planes with its electronic countermeasures officers on board.

Marines used HARMs in combat in during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, according to the U.S. Navy’s Web site. More than 400 missiles were fired to eliminate Iraqi radar threats in 2003, states the Web site of Raytheon, the HARM’s manufacturer.

VMAQ-1 is one of four electronic warfare squadrons in the Marine Corps. All are stationed at Cherry Point.

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