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Prowlers come to Yuma, fire unique missiles at ocean targets

By Desert Warrior Staff | | October 14, 2010

In a rare training opportunity, a visiting Marine squadron specializing in electronic warfare launched 14 radar-seeking missiles Oct. 7-8, 2010, at targets in the Pacific Ocean after launching its planes from the station flight line.

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

By firing 14 missiles, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4, based in Cherry Point, N.C., took advantage of the excellent training opportunity.

“This provides valuable training not only for the ground personnel, the maintenance personnel, but also for the aircrew to exercise the full capability of (electronic warfare) platform,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Schwanke, VMAQ-4 ordnance officer in charge.

The HARM detects electromagnetic radiation given off by enemy radars or anti-aircraft weapons and targets them for destruction.

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 using inert missiles with seekers, but lack a propulsion system and don’t actually leave the Prowler’s wing, said Maj. Paul K. Johnson, VMAQ-4 operations officer.

In addition to the officers flying in the four-seater Prowlers, five of the squadron’s enlisted ordnance technicians gained new experience when they mounted the HARMs on the aircraft.

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 technicians usually load HARM simulators and electronic jamming pods, rarely live missiles.

“It was brand new for every one of the guys that was out there today,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Farmer, VMAQ-4 ordnance chief. “We’ve got one guy that’s been with us for three years and hadn’t touched a live HARM, and we’ve got another guy, who has only been with us for about a month and got lucky. So, the training was definitely important.”

The training is part of the preparation for the squadron’s slated 2011 deployment to Afghanistan.

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 website. More than 400 missiles were fired to eliminate Iraqi radar threats in 2003, states the website of Raytheon, the HARM’s manufacturer.

VMAQ-4 is one of four electronic warfare squadrons in the Marine Corps. All are stationed at Cherry Point, N.C.

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