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VAQ-130 THE ZAPPERS

AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING SQUADRON-THIRTEEN (VAW-13)


TACTICAL ELECTRONIC WARFARE SQUADRON-ONE THIRTY (VAQ-130)


ELECTRONIC ATTACK SQUADRON-ONE THIRTY (VAQ-130)

           
Among the many Electronic Attack squadrons in the U.S. Navy, few can boast the lineage and accomplishments of VAQ-130. Possessing a memorable nickname and classic insignia, the “Zappers” continue their special place in history as the oldest VAQ squadron in the U.S. Navy.
Airborne Early Warning Squadron-THIRTEEN (VAW-13) was established at NAS Agana, Guam on 1 September 1959 during a period when the Pacific Fleet placed the electronic warfare field in the AEW area.  The new VAW-13 was related to the existing, North Island-based VAW-11 (“Early Eleven”) giving AIRPAC two units which combined radar (AEW) aircraft (Douglas AD-5W Skyraiders) and active jamming platforms (AD-5Qs).  Both were based on the same four-seat Ed Heinemann design used for a variety of missions in the fleet.


VAW-13 quickly took the name “Zappers”, a title that has lasted ever since. Their first deployment would involve a detachment (or, “Team”) of early warning AD-5Ws to the USS Hornet (CVS-12) in July 1960.  New Grumman WF-2 (E-1B) “Tracers” arrived early the same year to start replacing the older aircraft.


In July 1961 AIRPAC decided to separate the AEW and jamming roles and moved VAW-13 to NAS Alameda, CA, where it became the Pacific Fleet’s sole AD-5Q squadron, sister VAW-11 retaining the early warning mission. At this point normal squadron strength had 350 personnel (roughly 60 officers and 290 enlisted) as well as 19 “Queen” Skyraiders, now supplying four aircraft dets to most Pacific Fleet attack carriers (CVAs).  1961 had also seen two Grumman TF-1Q (EC-1A) Traders assigned, these being transport aircraft (CODs) modified to perform electronic jamming for fleet training from the beach.


On 13 May 1963 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) approved their insignia, a fanciful green dragon peering over a cloudbank while “shooting” lightning bolts from his eyes.  This image would remain a fixture of the squadron this point on and the creature itself was soon referred to as “Robby”, which was a shortening of the squadron’s official “Robinson” radio call sign.


VAW-13’s unique skills were soon needed in the growing conflict in South East Asia and by 1962 they had established Detachment “A” at NAS Cubi Point, PI as a forward base to maintain a presence of AD-5Qs (redesignated EA-1F in September 1962) on 7th Fleet carriers as well as participate in Operation Water Glass.


Water Glass (later called Operation Candy Machine) involved use of VAW-13 ADs to chase North Vietnamese aircraft that were believed to be dropping supplies to growing Viet Cong forces in the South. While the Navy thought a slow, radar-equipped propeller aircraft with 20MM cannon was the right airplane for the mission, the Air Force, which shared the mission, used supersonic, missile-armed F-102A Delta Daggers for their part. The mission ended in 1963 with the same results for both services- zero kills.


The war broke out in the open in Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, VAW-13 was quickly involved with three to four aircraft dets being supplied to most, if not all, 7th Fleet Carriers.  For the most part “Robby” EA-1Fs orbited off the beach jamming gunfire, early warning and, soon, SAM radars. 


Three aircraft would be lost as part of these operations; two operationally and one being shot down by anti-aircraft fire with the loss of all four crew. 


The rapid increase of the enemy’s use of the electro-magnetic environment quickly showed that, in spite of its valiant work, the Navy needed to replace the obsolescent Skyraider in the jamming mission.  While the long-term answer, later called the EA-6B Prowler, was several years away, an interim solution was available in 1967 as VAW-13 introduced the EKA-3B Skywarrior to the fleet.


Based on the Douglas A-3B airframe, the EKA-3B carried both jammers as well as a tanker package to refuel other aircraft.  The first detachment of “Whales” deployed from Alameda with Air Wing-TWO in Ranger in 1967 and by the end of 1968 the large, twin-engined jet had completely replaced the EA-1F as the Navy’s primary active EW aircraft.


Along with the transition to the EKA-3B was the complete reorganization of the service’s electronic warfare force as, starting in 1968 when the Navy finally broke the EW field away from Airborne Early Warning (AEW) area through use of the Tactical Electronic Warfare (VAQ) squadron title.  In October 1968 VAW-13 was redesignated VAQ-130, while retaining the “Zapper” nickname and logo.  Five detachments were soon separated from the squadron and established as separate squadrons (VAQ-131 through 135) as VAQ-130 continued supplying EKA-3Bs detachments to smaller carriers in both the Pacific and Atlantic fleets, many of which carried out combat operations in Vietnam.


In 1970 VAQ-130 assumed the duties as the Navy’s only A-3 Skywarrior training squadron. By 1971 the new VAQ community had started its move to Whidbey Island Washington for transition to the new Grumman EA-6B Prowler.  The “Zappers” would be the last unit to fly the EKA-3B version of the “Whale” and finally moved to Washington State themselves in 1974.


VAQ-130 made their initial deployment with the Standard-version EA-6B in Nimitz (CVN-68) in July 1975 as a member of CVW-8 on a North Atlantic cruise.  They would follow this with a trip to the Mediterranean in 1976-77 before transitioning to the Improved Capabilities (ICAP) EA-6B and moving to the Forrestal/CVW-17 team for another visit to the Med in 1978.


Subsequent deployments involved the carrier Independence and then back to the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk.  ICAP II Prowlers arrived in 1986 and the “Zappers” continued to deploy around the world. The August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq led to a no-notice “Zapper” deployment in the Kennedy to the Mediterranean and Red Sea where they participated in Operations Desert Shield and subsequent Desert Storm, during which the squadron flew 149 combat sorties for over 600 hours with 42 AGM-88 HARMs delivered. More importantly, no aircraft from CVW-3 were lost during the war.    


The 1995 deployment, now in Eisenhower, was highlighted by combat operations over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch and then over the former Yugoslavia with Operation Deny Flight. The later included three short detachments to Aviano, Italy where the Zappers continued flying NATO support missions while the rest of the ship and Air Wing were in port on liberty.


Their time in Italy only increased with a two-month return to Aviano in August-September, where they again provided critical EW support to NATO forces involved in the Balkans.


Moving with their Air Wing again, VAQ-130 made another trip to the Med in 1996-97 onboard the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).  Subsequent deployments would be in Enterprise (CVN-65) and then Harry S

Truman (CVN-75).  These cruises involved frequent combat operations in a troubled southwest Asia as the EA-6B continued to be in high demand to provide support for troops on the ground.


In 2006 the squadron made a three month shore-based deployment to Iwakuni, Japan, where they flew under the control of Marine Aircraft Group-TWELVE. 


For its final five Prowler deployments the “Zappers” flew from Harry S Truman (CVN-75), still under CVW-3.


The “Zappers” started transition to the Boeing EA-18G Growler in October, 2011; ending 36 years in the Grumman EA-6B, but continuing their heritage as one of the most distinguished names in the Naval Airborne Electronic Attack business.

 

VAQ-130 EA-6B Deployments

Jul-Sep 1975

Nimitz

CVW-8

NorLant

 

Jul ’76-Feb ‘77

Nimitz

CVW-8

Med

 

Apr-Oct 1978

Forrestal

CVW-17

Med/NorLant

 

Jun-Dec 1979

Independence

CVW-6

Med

 

Mar-Sep 1981

Forrestal

CVW-17

Med/NorLant

 

Jun-Dec 1982

Forrestal

CVW-17

Med/IO

 

Jan-Aug 1984

Kitty Hawk

CVW-2

WestPac/IO

 

Jul-Dec 1985

Kitty Hawk

CVW-9

WestPac/IO

 

Jan-Jun 1987

Kitty Hawk

CVW-9

World

 

Aug ’88-Feb ‘89

J.F. Kennedy

CVW-3

Med

 

Aug ’90-Mar ‘91

J.F. Kennedy

CVW-3

Med/RS

ODS

Oct ’92-Apr ‘93

J.F. Kennedy

CVW-3

Med

 

Oct ’94-Apr ‘95

D.D. Eisenhower

CVW-3

Med

OSW, ODF

Aug-Sep ‘95

Aviano Italy

 

 

ODF

Nov ’96-May ‘97

T. Roosevelt

CVW-3

Med/IO

OSW, ODG

Nov ’98-May ‘99

Enterprise

CVW-3

Med/IO

ODFo, OSW

Nov 2000-May ‘01

H.S Truman

CVW-3

Med/IO

OSW

Dec ’02-May ‘03

H.S Truman

CVW-3

Med

OIF

Oct ’04-Apr ‘05

H.S Truman

CVW-3

Med/IO

OIF

Jun-Aug ‘06

Iwakuni Japan

MAG-12

 

 

Nov ’07-Jun ‘08

H.S Truman

CVW-3

Med/IO

OIF

May-Oct ‘10

H.S Truman

CVW-3

Med/IO

OEF, OND

 

ODS: Operation Desert Storm            OSW: Operation Southern Watch

ODG: Operation Deliberate Guard     ODF:  Operation Deny Flight

ODFo: Operation Deliberate Force     OIF: Operation Iraqi Freedom

OEF: Operation Enduring Freedom    OND: Operation New Dawn

 

VAQ-130 EA-6B COMMANDING OFFICERS

CDR John Burkel

Jun 1974

CDR Don Herman

Jan 1976

CDR Pete Ferrentino

Apr 1977

CDR Charles Gudmonson

Jul 1978

CDR John Hodell

Oct 1979

CDR Barry Sehlin

Dec 1980

CDR Dee Echlin

Feb 1982

CDR Steve Judd

Aug 1983

CDR Bob Baratko

Feb 1985

CDR John Dinger

Jul 1986

CDR Phil Sowa

Feb 1988

CDR Roger Pierce

Jul 1989

CDR John Lemen

Feb 1991

CDR Bill Luti

May 1992

CDR Jim Coulson

Jun 1993

CDR Randy Rice

Sep 1994

CDR Joe Flynn

Dec 1995

CDR Mike Ackerman

Feb 1997

CDR W.J. Clark

May 1998

CDR Jay Sherman

Aug 1999

CDR Frank McCulloch

Nov 2000

CDR Tom Payne

Feb 2002

CDR Bill Lawler

Jun 2003

CDR Tom Slais

Sep 2004

CDR Kimo Lee

Sep 2005

CDR John Mactavish

Dec 2006

CDR Scott Moran

Mar 2008

CDR Jeff Hammer

May 2009

CDR Robert Coughlin

Aug 2010

CDR R.A. Vaccaro

Nov 2011

 

Major Prowler era awards:

Radford Award:   1990, 2003.           

Battle “E”:   1990, 1996, 2003, 2010.