A veterans group took its fight to protect Marine Corps electronic warfare capabilities to Congress this week.
H. Wayne Whitten, part of the Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association, said the radar-jamming and other capabilities of the EA-6B Prowler are crucial to national defense and a vital part of the economy of Eastern North Carolina.
Four Prowler squadrons are based at Cherry Point, but those squadrons are scheduled to be deactivated starting in 2016 through 2019.
With the arrival of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters at Cherry Point delayed until possibly 2022, Whitten said that leaves a three-year gap that could leave Cherry Point vulnerable in any Base Realignment and Closure process.
Whitten, a retired colonel who was once based at Cherry Point, and other members of the organization, including John Olkowski and Rick Johnson, spearheaded efforts to include language in proposed legislation that would guarantee at least consideration for extending the use of the Prowlers until the F-35B arrives at Cherry Point.
Whitten, who wrote a book on the use of electronic warfare during the Cuban Missile Crisis, said extending the Prowlers at Cherry Point is crucial to national defense, and the area economy.
Johnson said Prowlers have been vital in the war on terror in Afghanistan. He also points out that the Cherry Point Prowler squadrons are all flying the ICAP-III version of the jet, which features the latest technology.
The veterans group has focused its efforts to have the plan to deactivate the Prowler squadrons revisited by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Whitten said. That committee is currently working on its draft proposal of the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
Whitten hopes the association has a supporter in Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat representing North Carolina who has ties to the military, has made visits to Cherry Point and is a subcommittee chairman.
The effort comes as Cherry Point is set to take over training of Prowler pilots, a process that had been taking place by the Navy at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
The Navy is transitioning from the Prowler to the EA-18G Growler, which requires the Marine Corps to take over Prowler training, according to a release from Cherry Point.
As such, Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 at Cherry Point will be redesignated as Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 during a ceremony Friday on the base.