The Havelock News article in Thursday’s (June 13) edition noted that a group of veteran pilots were voicing their concerns about the Prowler sunset. This should not just be a concern of a veterans group. The four Prowler squadrons based at MCAS Cherry Point make up over 50 percent of the nation’s expeditionary airborne electronic attack capability, a mission Marines have played a preeminent role in since the start of the Vietnam War.
The Marines’ current plan is to phase out the EA-6Bs starting in 2016, with the last squadron to be stood down in 2019, with no replacement in sight! Unlike the Navy who is transitioning its EA-6Bs to the new EA-18G Growlers, the Marines have chosen to develop a network of systems to supplant their Prowlers, which currently support both their ground and air combat elements. Marine leaders envision the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and large Unmanned Aircraft Systems will eventually take over suppression of enemy air defenses, long the forte of the EA-6Bs. This risky approach is strongly questioned by our group of over 100 career electronic warfare officers, including many who are currently employed with major aerospace companies developing those new platforms.
That said, local members of the veterans group I belong to are very concerned about the timing of the Prowler sunset plan on the area economy and worry the resulting underutilization of the base will expose it to a BRAC. They know that it will likely be 2025 before the F-35Bs will be fielded in operational significant numbers to replace the legacy AV-8Bs and F/A-18s.
While the F-35B schedule slides, the Prowler phase-out plan has remained in concrete, although the FRC and Naval Air Systems Command advise the service life of the latest variant of the aircraft flown by the Marines could easily be extended for three to five years. A longer range option that would close the capability gap and secure Cherry Point’s future is for the Marines to transition to the EA-18G Growlers at least until functional replacements are available.
Perhaps your readers don’t know, but Congress is about to procure an additional 21 Growlers and assign them to the Navy to standup more squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island , Wash., to replace the Marine EA-6Bs. Yes, while the Marines are drawing down units at Cherry Point, the Navy will be ramping up their squadrons on the West Coast with new aircraft! How is this possible? Two reasons, the Navy is glad to take over the mission and the basing plan is strongly supported by the Washington State congressional delegation.
So wake up eastern North Carolina. You are going to be the victim of a well-intended but ill thought-out Marine Corps plan, and lack of support from your elected politicians at all levels. For over a year we have tried to work through one or another of three local civic groups supposedly working Cherry Point issues through various lobbyists paid for by your taxpayer dollars. Due to internal turf battles or indifference, we have found this to be a lost cause. This of course translates to inaction by your congressman, (Walter) Jones and Senator (Kay) Hagan, both of whom are members of key defense committees. As a national group, we are continuing to work this issue as best we can through our respective states’ senators, but our members report the first thing asked by their staffs is where does the N.C. delegation stand?
Time is running out to gain support for any of the alternatives. Isn’t it time for you to ask your politicians to get their act together for the good of the country and eastern North Carolina?
H. Wayne Whitten
Retired Marine colonel