The EA-6B Prowler, which has had a long history of service with the US Navy, has served as the primary electronics warfare aircraft for the Navy since its introduction in 1970.
The Prowler was developed by Northrop Grumman off the A-6 Intruder platform in the late 1960s as a replacement for the Navy's EA-3B Skywarrior and the Marine Corps' EF-10B Skynight. Its primary mission is to provide "protection for strike aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar, electronic data links and communications," according to the Navy.
It accomplishes this mission using the ALQ-99 jamming pod and the AGM-88 HARM (High-Speed Anti-Radiation) Missile, a tactical air-to-surface missile used to home in on surface-to-air radar systems.
The aircraft, which is in service with both the Navy and Marine Corps, carries a four-person crew consisting of a pilot and three electronics countermeasures officers.
Following the retirement of the Skywarrior in 1991 and the Air Force's EF-111 Raven in 1998, the Prowler was the only electronics warfare aircraft in the military arsenal until the introduction of the Boeing EA-18G Growler, which entered service in 2008.
The aircraft involved in Monday's mishap was assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129), known as the Vikings. VAQ-129 is the Navy's fleet replacement squadron charged with training all Navy and Marine Corps aviators assigned to fly Prowlers and Growlers.
The squadron is permanently based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
Since its introduction into the fleet in 1971, the Prowler has served in combat in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. While no Prowlers have ever been lost in combat operations over its 42 years in service, numerous aircraft have been lost in peacetime accidents.
A memorial was dedicated at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in 1998 to 44 aircrew lost in EA-6B Prowler accidents. The last two mishaps involving loss of life in Prowlers happened that same year.
In February 1998 a Marine Prowler clipped the cable of a gondola in Cavalese, Italy, killing 20 civilians when the gondola crash 80 meters to the ground. Despite damage to the aircraft the aircrew were able to return to Aviano Air Base in Italy.
In November 1998 a Navy Prowler collided with an S-3 Viking during night landing qualifications aboard the USS Enterprise off the coast of Virginia. All four crewmen aboard the Prowler died in that mishap.