RELEASE: 99-140October 26, 1999

Old Prowler, new technology dominated Desert Storm

By Jamie Darcy
NAS Public Affairs Department

PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD-As an electronic countermeasures officer (ECMO) with combat experience in EA-6Bs, Capt. Ken Krech has seen firsthand how the fruits of developmental test and evaluation save lives in the air.

Today, Krech is advanced systems integrated program team lead for the EA-6B Program Office at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. But in early 1991, as executive officer for Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-137, he was riding an EA-6B into the deadly night skies over Iraq, using the aircraft and its systems in ways that they had never been used before in combat.

"Desert Storm was the first time we used the airplane with anti-radiation missiles on it," Krech said. "There were a lot of skeptics who thought ordnance and EW [electronic warfare] were like oil and water." The test and evaluation work the Navy had conducted for the EA-6B's new role paid off for Krech and his crew on the second night of the war, when he let fly his first high-speed anti-radiation missile (HARM) against an enemy radar threatening an allied strike package.

"We were supporting one of our own air wing strikes from the USS America," Krech recalled. "It was a takeoff in the dark, then find an Air Force tanker somewhere over Saudi Arabia - no moon, in and out of the clouds, trying to find this guy without bumping into other airplanes.

"We had 35 planes converging on five tankers, all in the dark, nobody's ever been there before, and you're scared because an hour after you do this you're supposed to be in Baghdad and you don't know what's going to happen down there," he said.

"You're supposed to be on oxygen 100 percent of the time, and we're going to war so we're doing everything by the book," Krech explained. But during the difficult refueling operation, his pilot - "a big guy with a football-player build" - was breathing so hard as he worked that Krech grew worried about the crew's oxygen supply. He was shocked to find they had used half of their liquid oxygen already, despite being just one hour into a seven-hour mission. Krech ordered the three ECMOs to go off oxygen, reserving it for the pilot.

"Later on we go in country, and we're doing our jamming, and we're getting ready to shoot our missiles." He ordered the ECMO in the front seat to go back on oxygen, while he and the other back-seater kept their masks off.

"We're carrying two HARM missiles, and none of us has ever shot a real missile before," Krech said. "Well the first time we shoot this thing, there's the most blinding light, and the missile disappears, and then the cockpit in back fills up with smoke, like the airplane's on fire."

In fact, the smoke from the missile ignition had been sucked into the air conditioning intake for the cockpit. "Of course the guys up front couldn't smell it because they had their oxygen masks on, but in the back where the air conditioning comes into the airplane, we were saying, 'My God, we're on fire. What's wrong?'

"In hindsight, it's pretty humorous, but boy, for about 15 or 30 seconds…. We're looking at the EW system and we're looking to see if somebody is shooting at us, and we're kind of blinded after this big white whoosh of the HARM missile, and all the while we're in the back going, 'Um, guys, I think we're on fire!'" Krech said, laughing.

Despite this innocuous surprise, the HARM/Prowler combination performed exactly as advertised throughout the war, Krech said. On one occasion, a Prowler from his squadron destroyed a surface-to-air missile radar even as it was targeting an F/A-18 from the America, he said. Iraqi ground crews quickly learned that turning on their radars against allied flights invited a lethal response from the newly armed Prowlers.

Though EA-6B crews may not get as much recognition as the fighter pilots who shot down enemy planes or the attack pilots who dropped precision-guided bombs, Krech doesn't seem to mind. "Our job is not to defeat the enemy," he explained. "Our job is to allow the rest of the military to defeat the enemy."


POC Name: John RomerPOC Tel: 301-342-7710