News

Iraq bill repairs Prowlers

The U.S. House passed a final version of the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill Oct. 30 which includes $85 million more for EA-6B Prowler wing repairs.

“These planes are critical assets to our national security, and we need to keep them in the air,” U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen said. “The $85 million that we secured in the Iraq supplemental allows us to keep these planes on the prowl and Navy pilots safe on the job.”

The Navy also plans to disestablish one its four expeditionary Prowler squadrons, the Navy Times reported Oct. 31.

This follows $35 million in Prowler repair funding that was included in the 2004 Defense Appropriations bill in September, and $44 million appropriated in the last two years. The September funding came just as 19 Prowlers were grounded for structural fatigue damage, specifically wing cracks exacerbated by increased use.

The Navy has now decided to ground 24 more Prowlers from the fleet due to fatigue of the center wing sections, according to the Public Affairs Office of Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Ten of the first 19 grounded Prowlers were based at Whidbey, and more than two dozen of the jets in this latest grounding could be as well.

This grounding will reduce the total number of Navy and Marine Prowlers from 95 to 71.

On Sept. 23 the Commander of the Naval Air Systems Command issued a “Red Stripe” memo indicating that 19 Prowlers were being grounded due to structural fatigue damage, 12 for wing center sections and 7 for outer wing panels.

The increased war-time use and age are working against the Prowlers, but the Navy needs to keep them flying until they can be replaced by the EA-18Gs. That follow-on is not expected to happen for another six years.

The memo and grounding prompted Prowler advocates to push for more funding.

“The Red Stripe memo sent up a red flag that we need to continue investing in keeping our Prowlers ready for action,” Larsen said.

Larsen organized a bipartisan letter to House leaders urging them to include the Prowler repair money in the Supplemental Appropriations Conference Report. The supplemental included $70 million for outer wing panels and $15 million for wing center sections. Whidbey Naval Air Station could receive a large portion of the repair money to update its aging fleet, Larsen said.

The bill now goes to President Bush for signing.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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