The story of the last days of the A-6 community and the “Intruder Reef”


On December 19, 1996, the last deployment of the iconic Grumman A-6 ended when all intruders from the VA-75 “Sunday Punchers” were launched from the USS Enterprise and returned to NAS Oceana.

On December 19, 1996, the last deployment of the iconic Grumman A-6 ended when all intruders from the VA-75 “Sunday Punchers” were launched from the USS Enterprise and returned to NAS Oceana.

As Rick Morgan says in his book Anti-intrusion units A-6 1974-96, on January 7, 1991, a week before the onset of the Desert Storm, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney ordered the A-12 Avenger II program (a large tailless delta aircraft with tandem seats under a long transparent canopy unofficially intended to replace the Intruder) to be canceled for “breach of contract”. Legal details aside, it was now clear that the A-6 had no apparent successor. Throughout this period, intruders continued to deploy as part of every aircraft carrier that left CONUS. The last built, A-6E SWIP BuNo 164385, rolled out of Calverton on January 31, 1992, ending 33 years of production of the “Mighty Tadpole”. This historic cell lasted barely 18 months and was lost on September 8, 1993 in a mid-air collision while deployed with the VA-95 aboard CVN-72. As the four crew members ejected, both jets (the other being BuNo 161682) went to the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

In the fleet, operations remain focused on post-war Iraq, for although Kuwait has been liberated, Saddam Hussein remains in control of his country and must be watched. The result was Operations Southern Watch and Northern Watch, where much of Iraq was considered “no-fly zones” imposed by Allied planes operating from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf or (from the north). Incirlik, Turkey. Intruders were heavily involved in these missions, working from aircraft carriers that spent time in the Gulf and occasionally launching attacks against Iraqi units firing at them. On January 23, 1993, for example, CVW-15 aircraft flying from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), including VA-52 A-6Es and a pair of F / A-18As, bombed AAA sites. in Iraq as part of Veille du Sud. It was almost certainly the last time an intruder had dropped “angry” ammunition.

Nimitz’s 1993 deployment to the WestPac and the “I0” was also the last cruise for the KA-6D version, the VA-165 (as part of the CVW-9) taking several with it and withdrawing the series at his return. From that point on, the A-6E SWIP would be the main model, and the “bombers” equipped with buddy stores would carry the weight of the supply alongside the S-3Bs of the Air Wing.

This print is available in multiple sizes at AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET VTRE. A-6E Intruder VA-35 Black Panthers, AJ502 / 151582/1977

In the US Marine Corps, the conversion of the remaining Intruder units to the new F / A-18D was in full swing. It was up to the Moonlighters of VMA (AW) -332 to permanently remove the Intruder from marine service in June 1993. It was the end of the small but powerful Marine All Weather Attack community, dating back to October 1964 when VMA-242 had surrendered his A-4C Skyhawks for the new Grumman Intruder.

Back in the US Navy, if the future was not already obvious to some, it began to take shape as the squadrons were quickly disbanded. The first to leave was the VA-185, in August 1991. Any remaining doubt as to the direction of the Medium Attack community ended in mid-1992 at an event held in Whidbey. Senior US Navy Aviator Vice Admiral Dick Dunleavy (as OP-05 OPNAV – he had previously been an A-6 B / N and CO of the VA-176), told a crowd stunned in the base theater that the average attack was over and would eventually be integrated into the growing Strike Fighter (VFA) community. As severe as this shock was to the Intruder crowd, it was not known at this point that the new, larger versions of the Hornet that were planned (eventually referred to as Super Hornets) would also consume the VF and VS communities.

Other squadrons were quickly disbanded – the VA-176 did not see the end of 1992, while its VA-155 and -145 teammates left the following year and 1994 saw the disappearance of the VAs. -36 and -85. In 1995, the VA-35, -52 and -95 also put on their colors.

1994 also saw the end of the two Naval Reserve medium attack units (VA-304 and -205).

The year 1996 begins with only five Intruder units in the US Navy. While the VA-165 “Boomers” would get the ax, two outfits, VA-34 and -115, were selected for the transition to the F / A-18Cs, becoming VFA units in the change. Which left the VA-75 at Oceana and the VA-196 at Whidbey as the last two standing. The “main battery” had returned from its last deployment on November 13, 1996, flying away from Carl Vinson and bidding farewell to CVW-14, with which it had completed all but one of its 17 major deployments. The legendary “Sunday Punchers” made their appearance in Oceana off Enterprise on December 19, after completing their final deployment with the CVW-17. It was fitting that the VA-75, the first intruder squadron to deploy (in May 1965, and directly into combat), should be the last.

The story of the last days of the A-6 community and the

The dissolving ceremonies for the two squadrons took place on the same day, February 28, 1997. As befits naval aviation, there was a bit of playfulness here, however, as both squadrons held periods last minute carrier qualification to establish which unit could claim the ‘last intruder trap’. The “Milestones” found a bridge ready on Carl Vinson on February 12 and 13 – this time the ship was working within sight of Whidbey in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Not to be outdone, the “Punchers” managed to land an invitation from the Enterprise and worked on the ship’s day model with two jets on March 12, 12 days after their official dismantling. A week later, the last squadron commander, Cdr Jim Gigliotti, led the final section of A-6 to the cemetery in Tucson, Arizona.

It was truly the end of an era.

The hole the loss of the intruder left in the air wing’s combat capability was enormous. The CVWs initially added another Hornet squadron, but this did little to improve the accuracy and persistence strike capabilities. The F-14’s rapid modification into a strike platform more than made up for the lack of a true medium attack, but, according to supporters, did not address the “all-weather” or range advantages provided by the ‘A-6, not to mention the value the plane gave as a tanker. Many men who have flown Intruders have been on other planes, including Tomcats, Hornets, and Prowlers. A number of them went on to excel and advance to senior leadership positions in the U.S. Navy and in so doing helped keep the Middle Attack Spirit alive and healthy in the service.

Now, the mention of the intruder still frequently elicits remarks such as “retired too early” and “wish he was still in the fleet”.

However, as the photos in this article show, after the Navy made the decision to withdraw the A-6, 40 sanitized cells were sunk in the waters off the coast of Florida to form “Intruder Reef” AKA “NAS Atlantis” which has become a popular destination for anglers and divers.

A-6 Intruder Units 1974-96 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available for order here.

The story of the last days of the A-6 community and the

Photo credit: US Navy


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