In the 1960s, the Navy was looking for a replacement and complement for the A-4 Skyhawk and the A-7 Corsair II, neither of which was equipped with avionics to attack in all weather. A replacement aircraft was also needed for the WWII-vintage A-1 Skyraider.
Grumman received the contract for the two-seat attack aircraft in 1959, constructing the first prototypes that same year. The first A-6As were delivered to VA-42 of the Navy, and the Marine Corps also purchased some aircraft.
The aircraft quickly proved invaluable in the fighting in Southeast Asia. Its advanced electronics allowed it to fly in all weather, and it could carry a large bombload. When a pair of A-6 bombers with 17,000 pounds of bombs aboard demolished a power plant in Haiphong, the North Vietnamese criticized the U.S. military for using B-52 Stratofortresses against the city! In spite of the aircraft's advanced weaponry, 84 were shot down over North Vietnam.
In December 1983, Intruders and A-7 Corsairs struck Syrian positions in Lebanon, after the Syrians had fired SAMs at Navy F-14s on reconnaissance. The strike hit several artillery and radar sites, but one A-6 was lost to a SAM, the pilot being killed and the bombardier-navigator being captured.
The A-6 next saw action in the Gulf of Sidra, during tensions with Libya. In late March 1986, during Operation Prairie Fire, Intruders sank the missile boat Waheed (the first combat victim of the Harpoon missile) and the corvette Ean Mara, and damaged another corvette. Three weeks later, A-6s from the USS Coral Sea and USS America struck at the military barracks in Benghazi and at nearby Benini airfield as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.
During Operation Praying Mantis in the Persian Gulf in April 1988, US Navy A-6s helped sink the Iranian frigate Sahand. On the same day, a lone A-6 attacked the frigate Sabalan and severely damaged it, forcing it to limp home in retreat.
A-6s also saw extensive action in the Gulf War. In addition to striking land targets, Intruders sank at least two Iraqi patrol boats. On January 25, 1991, the ninth day of the war, A-6Es made a highly successful attack on the naval base at Umm Qasr, damaging facilities and leaving four ships burning.
The KA-6D was the Navy's main tanker from 1966 to 2001, when it was replaced by special versions of the F-18 Hornet.
The A-6E was the most technologically advanced. It was equipped to carry high powered navigation/attack radar, laser bomb capability, and a video camera to record the damage done on a mission.
For a more detailed treatment, see EA-6 Prowler.
The A-6 has been replaced by the F-18 Hornet.
|Type||Two-seat carrier-based attack aircraft|
|Power plant||Two Pratt & Whitney 9,300 pounds of thrust J52-P-8A turbofans|
|Length||54 feet, 9 inches|
|Height||16 feet, 2 inches|
|Speed||655 miles per hour|
|Empty weight||25,684 pounds|
|Unrefueled range||2000 miles|
|Maximum Weight||58,400 pounds|
|Armament||Assorted guided and unguided bombs, Harpoon missiles, Standard ARMs, and cluster bombs up to 18,000 pounds|
- Disaster in Lebanon
- El Dorado Canyon: Reagan’s Undeclared War with Qaddafi, by Joseph T. Stanik, Naval Institute Press, 2003
- Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History, by Craig L. Symonds, Oxford University Press, 2005
- Desert Storm: Air War, by Robert F. Dorr, Motorbooks International, 1991