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The Grumman A-6 Intruder served with the US Navy and the US Marine Corp in an all-weather/night attack role between 1963 and 1997. It was bristling with advanced avionics using multiple computers, and evolved into airborne refueller & electronic warfare variants.

The Intruder replaced the Douglas Skyraider in the ground attack role and did everything that the Skyraider did, while offering high subsonic speeds and an all weather capability.

In turn the Intruder was replaced by the Tomcat using a dedicated LANTIRN pod, and then by the Hornet and Super Hornet, which remain in use today.

Grumman A-6 Intruder

In October 1956 the US Navy issued a formal requirement for an all-weather, carrier-based attack aircraft. The Skyraider had showed the value of aircraft optimised for the ground attack role, but it lacked sophisticated avionics and its slow speed made it vulnerable to enemy fire.

No less than eight manufacturers responded to a Request for Proposals with Grumman selected in January 1958. The lead designer, Lawrence Mead Jr was also a designer on the Lunar Excursion Module and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

The lead designer of the A-6, Lawrence Mead Jr was also a designer on the Lunar Excursion Module and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.Apollo Lunar Excursion Module - via Wikimedia Commons
The lead designer of the A-6, Lawrence Mead Jr was also a designer on the Lunar Excursion Module and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.Apollo Lunar Excursion Module – via Wikimedia Commons

In fact it was Grumman’s demonstrated ability to deliver the Intruder project, with it’s advanced avionics utilising multiple computers, that contributed to NASA’s decision to contract them to design and produce the Lunar Lander.

The prototype first flew on 19 April 1960 and testing went smoothly, but revealed a need to relocate the speed brakes to the outboard section of the wings. The aircraft’s wing was optimised for high-subsonic speeds, and delivered the ability to carry a large bomb load while offering good manoeuvrability.

A Grumman A-6A Intruder (then designated A2F-1) with an array of possible ordnance. Date 28 February 1962 - via Wikimedia Commons
A Grumman A-6A Intruder (then designated A2F-1) with an array of possible ordnance. Date 28 February 1962 – via Wikimedia Commons

The configuration placed the two crew members in a side by side arrangement. The pilot was on the left and the Bombardier/Navigator sat on the right side, slightly lower than the pilot. A synthetic terrain display allowed high speed, low level, all weather capability.

Aircraft were fitted with one of the earliest automatic internal diagnostic systems, known as BACE, which reduced maintenance requirements significantly.

Nuclear weapons were carried by the Intruder and crews trained regularly for this mission, using a Low Altitude Bombing System – Inverted Position (LABS-IP) lofted delivery profile.

Operations

Entering service in February 1963, the Intruder became the Navy and Marine Corp’s primary medium attack aircraft for the next 30 years. It was also used as a aerial refueller, designated KA-6D, using a specialised ‘Buddy store’.

The US Air Force did not use the Intruder, instead utilising the F-105 Thunderchief and later the F-111 Aardvark.

A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder (BuNo 155670) aircraft from Attack Squadron 52 (VA-52) "Knightriders" in flight in 1981. VA-52 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) from 1 April to 23 November 1981 for a deployment to the Western Pacific. This aircraft was an A-6A modified to an A-6E. After its retirement it was sunk as an artificial reef. Via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder (BuNo 155670) aircraft from Attack Squadron 52 (VA-52) “Knightriders” in flight in 1981. VA-52 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) from 1 April to 23 November 1981 for a deployment to the Western Pacific. This aircraft was an A-6A modified to an A-6E. After its retirement it was sunk as an artificial reef. Via Wikimedia Commons

The 18,000 lb payload and all-weather/night ability of the Intruder made it invaluable in the Vietnam War, where it was used extensively. Its low level made it vulnerable and 84 aircraft were lost during the conflict. Ten were lost to Surface to Air (SAM) missiles, two were shot down by MiGs, 56 were lost to conventional ground fire and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), and the remaining 16 were lost to operational causes.

A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder aircraft assigned to the Sunday Punchers of attack squadron VA-75 makes ready for launch from the number one catapult, during carrier qualifications aboard the US Navy's nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65). Enterprise is participating in Combined Joint Task Force Exercise '96, as part of a multinational force of over 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airman and marines from Canada, Britain and the United States. Date 27 April 1996 - via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder aircraft assigned to the Sunday Punchers of attack squadron VA-75 makes ready for launch from the number one catapult, during carrier qualifications aboard the US Navy’s nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65). Enterprise is participating in Combined Joint Task Force Exercise ’96, as part of a multinational force of over 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airman and marines from Canada, Britain and the United States. Date 27 April 1996 – via Wikimedia Commons

While the Navy aircraft operated from twenty different aircraft carriers during the war, the Marines Intruders operated mostly from land.

Following the Vietnam War Intruders flew in support of the Multinational Force in Lebanon and one of those was shot down over Syria. Three years later Intruders were involved in the bombing of Libya in Operation El Dorado Canyon.

During the Gulf War in 1991, Intruders flew 4,700 missions with three of them shot down by ground fire. Once again they flew close air support and strike roles across Iraq, with Navy aircraft again operating from carriers and the Marines operating from Bahrain.

The final wartime operations for the A-6 were over Bosnia in 1994 and the last Intruders were eventually retired on 28 February 1997.

Variants

YA-6A

There were eight prototype and pre-production Intruders and they were ultimately designated YA-6A. One innovation (at that time) that was tested was tilting tailpipes to improve takeoff performance from aircraft carriers, but these were not adopted.

One of eight Grumman YA2F-1 Intruder prototypes, showing the original tiltable tailpipes. The first flight was on 19 April 1960. The aircraft was redesignated A-6 in 1962.
One of eight Grumman YA2F-1 Intruder prototypes, showing the original tiltable tailpipes. The first flight was on 19 April 1960. The aircraft was redesignated A-6 in 1962.
A-6A

The initial production version of the Intruder. It used the DIANE computer (Digital Integrated Attack Navigation Equipment), which took a few years before it could be trusted to work reliably. 480 were built.

Four U.S. Marine Corps All-Weather Medium Attack Squadron 242 (VMA(AW)-242) Grumman A-6A Intruder aircraft (BuNo 155623, 155624, 155625, 157014) flying in echelon formation on 21 November 1975. Date 21 November 1975 - via Wikimedia Commons
Four U.S. Marine Corps All-Weather Medium Attack Squadron 242 (VMA(AW)-242) Grumman A-6A Intruder aircraft (BuNo 155623, 155624, 155625, 157014) flying in echelon formation on 21 November 1975. Date 21 November 1975 – via Wikimedia Commons
A-6B

These were A-6As converted for use in a defence suppression role. Much of its fancy avionics were removed and replaced with equipment that could detect and track enemy radar sites.

The aircraft would launch and guide anti-radiation missiles against these targets. The missiles were the AGM-78 Standard and the AGM-45 Shrike. 19 were converted for this role and five were lost to all causes. The remainder were converted to A-6E standard.

A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6B Intruder (BuNo. 149957) of Attack Squadron 75 (VA-75) "Sunday Punchers" on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CVA-60) in the summer of 1971. VA-75 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) aboard the Saratoga fora a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 3 June to 31 October 1971. The first ten A-6Bs (BuNos 149949, 149957, and 151588 to 151595) were obtained by stripping off most of the attack systems of existing A-6As, and substituting them with specialized equipment that could detect radars from surface-to-air missiles. They were equipped with the AGM-78 Standard anti-radiation missile, visible on the left inboard pylon of the aircraft. Date 1971 - via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6B Intruder (BuNo. 149957) of Attack Squadron 75 (VA-75) “Sunday Punchers” on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CVA-60) in the summer of 1971. VA-75 was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) aboard the Saratoga fora a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 3 June to 31 October 1971. The first ten A-6Bs (BuNos 149949, 149957, and 151588 to 151595) were obtained by stripping off most of the attack systems of existing A-6As, and substituting them with specialized equipment that could detect radars from surface-to-air missiles. They were equipped with the AGM-78 Standard anti-radiation missile, visible on the left inboard pylon of the aircraft. Date 1971 – via Wikimedia Commons
A-6C

Twelve A-6As were converted for specialised night operations over the Ho Chi Minh trail, incorporating advanced radar, low-light TV, forward looking infra-red and ignition-detection systems. One was lost and the remainder were converted to A-6E standard after the war.

A Grumman A-6C Intruder aircraft (BuNo. 155660) of attack squadron VA-35 Black Panthers. VA-35 was deployed as part of Attack Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) aboard the aricraft carrier USS America (CVA-66) to Vietnam from 05 Jun 1972 to 24 Mar 1973. The designation A-6C was given to twelve A-6As that were modified between February and June of 1970 as special aircraft designed to detect, track, and attack nighttime truck traffic along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" during the Vietnam war. The planes were fitted with an internal "Black Crow" engine ignition detection system and a ventral TRIM (Trails-Roads Interdiction Multisensors) pod faired into the lower fuselage that contained the FLIR and LLLTV cameras. Date 1972 - via Wikimedia Commons
A Grumman A-6C Intruder aircraft (BuNo. 155660) of attack squadron VA-35 Black Panthers. VA-35 was deployed as part of Attack Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) aboard the aricraft carrier USS America (CVA-66) to Vietnam from 05 Jun 1972 to 24 Mar 1973. The designation A-6C was given to twelve A-6As that were modified between February and June of 1970 as special aircraft designed to detect, track, and attack nighttime truck traffic along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” during the Vietnam war. The planes were fitted with an internal “Black Crow” engine ignition detection system and a ventral TRIM (Trails-Roads Interdiction Multisensors) pod faired into the lower fuselage that contained the FLIR and LLLTV cameras. Date 1972 – via Wikimedia Commons
KA-6D

78 A-6As and 12 A-6Es were converted into aerial tankers. They often accompanied strike packages on their missions and carried four underwing fuel tanks. The DIANE system was removed and the space used to hold more fuel. When the Intruders were retired this role was undertaken by the S-3 Viking and later by the Super Hornet.

A U.S. Navy Grumman KA-6D Intruder (BuNo 149484) from Attack Squadron 34 (VA-34) "Blue Blasters" in flight. VA-34 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW-7) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 29 February to 29 August 1988. Via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy Grumman KA-6D Intruder (BuNo 149484) from Attack Squadron 34 (VA-34) “Blue Blasters” in flight. VA-34 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW-7) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 29 February to 29 August 1988. Via Wikimedia Commons
A-6E

This was the ultimate and perhaps best known variant of the Intruder. It had upgraded avionics, radar, computers and inertial navigation system, among other minor upgrades and enhancements.

The A-6E was fitted with the TRAM – the Target Recognition and Attack Multi-Sensor. Essentially this was a FLIR and laser designator mounted in the nose of the aircraft that allowed the dropping of laser-guided bombs, even on moving targets.

A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder aircraft (BuNo 155703) from attack squadron VA-65 Tigers in 1983. VA-65 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW-7) aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). Date 1 August 1983 - via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Navy Grumman A-6E Intruder aircraft (BuNo 155703) from attack squadron VA-65 Tigers in 1983. VA-65 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 7 (CVW-7) aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). Date 1 August 1983 – via Wikimedia Commons
EA-6B Prowler

The Prowler was a variant of the A-6A with a stretched fuselage and accommodation for four crew members. It was designed for the electronic warfare role, in which it was highly successful. 170 were built. While no Prowler has ever been lost in combat, as at 2013 50 (!) had been lost in various accidents, killing 44 air crew.

A US Navy (USN) EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 (VAQ 133), out of Whidbey Island, Washington, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska, in support of exercise NORTHERN EDGE 2002. Note that the aircraft wears the tail code "NL", assigned to the Commander VAQ-Wings, Pacific at NAS Whidbey Island. From 1956 to 1995 this was the tail code of Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15). Date23 Apr 2002 - via Wikimedia Commons
A US Navy (USN) EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 (VAQ 133), out of Whidbey Island, Washington, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska, in support of exercise NORTHERN EDGE 2002. Note that the aircraft wears the tail code “NL”, assigned to the Commander VAQ-Wings, Pacific at NAS Whidbey Island. From 1956 to 1995 this was the tail code of Carrier Air Wing 15 (CVW-15). Date23 Apr 2002 – via Wikimedia Commons

A future article will expand on the role of the Prowler, which was introduced in 1971 and retired in 2015, it’s role taken over by Growler versions of the Super Hornet.

Official US Navy Photograph of an EA–6B Prowler aircraft, picture modified with notes. Photograph taken during chase flight. Photo is in the public domain as an unclassified work of the US Federal Government. Date 3 March 2009 - via Wikimedia Commons
Official US Navy Photograph of an EA–6B Prowler aircraft, picture modified with notes. Photograph taken during chase flight. Photo is in the public domain as an unclassified work of the US Federal Government. Date 3 March 2009 – via Wikimedia Commons

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Specifications

Make Grumman
Model A-6 Intruder
Aircraft Type Carrier-based twin jet all weather attack aircraft
Role All weather/night attack, strike and interdiction
Crew complement Pilot and Bombardier/Navigator
First flight 19 April 1960
Retired 28 February 1997 (US Navy)
Number produced 693
Unit cost USD $43 million in 1998
Maximum weight 26,580 kg
Powerplant(s) Two Pratt & Whitney J-52 turbojets with 9,300 lb thrust
Wingspan 16.15 m
Length 16.69 m
Height 4.93 m
Armament/Payload Up to 18,000 lb of bombs and/or missiles
Range 3,243 statute miles (ferry range)
Combat radius 1,011 statute miles with maximum payload
Service ceiling 42,400′
Cruise speed 412 knots
Maximum speed 560 knots at sea level
Claim to fame Was the world’s most advanced attack aircraft in it’s day

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