Military Factory logo

Grumman A-6 Intruder

United States (1963)
Picture of Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft
Picture of Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft Picture of Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft
+ Images
This entry's gallery contains additional pictures. Click to View.

The Grumman A-6 Intruder handled the strike role for the United States Navy through the Vietnam War, its last recorded actions being over Bosnia.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 7/4/2018. Authored by Dan Alex. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com

The Grumman A-6 "Intruder" was a dedicated strike platform designed to a United States Navy (USN) requirement for an all-weather, carrier-based attack aircraft capable of carrying and delivering large, potent payloads on inland enemy targets. To this point, the USN had found success for such a platform through the multi-faceted Douglas "Skyraider" prop-driven attack aircraft line used in the Korea War (1950-1953) and looked to expand on such capabilities through a jet-powered mount. The USN delivered their request in 1955 and finalized their wish-list by 1957. This resulted in the usual American defense players being solicited (no fewer than eleven bids from eight companies forthcoming) and in January of 1958, the Grumman model "G-128" was selected for further development under the USN designation of "A2F-1" (using the pre-1962 USN marking convention). This continued the Grumman-USN partnership that dated back to World War 2 and the storied F4F Wildcat fighter line.

Work revealed a flyable prototype which first took to the skies on April 19th, 1960. The prototype YA2F-1 would largely resemble the finalized A-6 Intruder known today but featured a unique quality with its swiveling jet pipe nozzles which were to allow for short runway take-offs when pointing downwards. The rest of the aircraft constituted tear drop-shaped fuselage with bulbous frontal section and severely tapering aft section, high-mounted and rearward-swept monoplane wing assemblies, and a wide two-man, side-by-side cockpit arrangement (pilot at left with the bombardier at right). Indeed the aircraft took on the shape of a turkey leg and was thus nicknamed that over the course of its career. The aircraft was powered by two turbojet engines seated along the sides of the lower fuselage, aspirated through semi-circle intakes found along the forward fuselage sides and exhausted through individual nozzles under the sides of the tail unit. The undercarriage was typically carrier-like - two single-wheeled main legs and a dual-wheeled nose leg, all three legs retractable into the frame. The all-weather requirement was aided by a terrain display CRT system to which the navigator/bombardier utilized for their low-level attack runs. A permanently fixed in-flight refueling probe was fitted over the nose between the forward cockpit windscreens and used to further extend the operational reach of the aircraft. The tail unit consisted of a single vertical tail fin with swept-back horizontal planes.

From the outset, the A2F-1/A-6 was designed around a large bomb load out and this necessitated a specialized approach to the wings which could enable the aircraft to carry potent payloads while maintaining the necessary strength and capabilities for subsonic flight. With a high-mounted installation, the underwing hardpoints were cleared from any ground interference and offered the needed performance handling during low-level runs while retaining agility against ground-based fire. Airbrakes were integrated into the wings for additional stabilizing support. The avionics suite was of an advanced nature for the period with automation built-in as well as diagnostic measures to aid technicians and the flight crew. This sort of sophisticated design nature made the A-6 a high maintenance machine.

Armament was set across five total hardpoints that included four underwing and one under fuselage position for a total of 18,000lb of externally-held stores. The A-6 would eventually see a career carrying everything from air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-radar missiles, rocket pods, and a plethora of general purpose drop bombs. Precision-guided munitions followed in time and a nuclear-drop capability was always a part of her design. There was no internal gun fitted. Additionally, the aircraft could carry external drop tanks across any of its five hardpoints for all positions were plumbed.

Grumman completed eight airframes for the preliminary and developmental testing phases. These led to the initial A-6A production models which would eventually number 480 units (USN designations moved to a new standard in 1962). The first operational squadron to be issued the A-6A was VA-42 on February 1st, 1963 and the type was adopted for service with both the USN and the United States Marine Corps (USMC) serving as the primary strike arm of USN carrier groups.

As a carrier-based aircraft, the A-6 was given the usual carrier-minded qualities to assist in its operation in an over-water environment. Its undercarriage was reinforced for the rigors of deck service (complete with the double-tired nose landing gear leg) and an arrestor (tail) hook was added under the empennage to snag awaiting deck cables when landing. For storage on the space-strapped carriers of the day, the A-6's wing mainplanes folded upwards at about their midway length to promote a more contained profile when held below deck.

The A-6's baptism of fire occurred in the long-running Vietnam War (1955-1975). By the mid-1960s, America's commitment in the region had grown to the point that any and all available military hardware was sent to the region in an attempt to turn the tide against the invading Soviet-supported North. The A-6 was up to the challenge with well-trained crews and long-ranged capabilities while carrying an incredible amount of ordnance against enemy ground targets. Of course, the low-altitude runs expected of the aircraft opened it up to intense enemy ground fire (including Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) strikes) from all quarters and some eighty-four A-6s were lost in the war. Nevertheless, the A-6 became just one of the many American military symbols of the Vietnam War - joining the storied McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter, the Bell UH-1 "Huey", and others in the fray.

During the war, the A-6A was selected for modification to an anti-radar platform for suppression of North Vietnam air defense systems. Nineteen A-6As were converted by replacing their traditional ground attack equipment (AN/APQ-103 radar) with anti-radar systems (AN/APQ-92) to be used in conjunction with AGM-78 "Standard ARM" and the AGM-45 "Shrike" anti-radiation missiles. The missiles rode to their target on the emissions generated from a seeking/tracking enemy radar system upon their launching from the A-6 wing hardpoints. Navigation was also replaced with the AN/APN-153 series radar and these revised Intruders were designated "A-6B", beginning service in 1968.


Picture of the Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft
Picture of the Grumman A-6 Intruder Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft


In 1970, a dozen A-6A models were modified for the night attack role and outfitted with the TRIM pod ("Trails/Roads Interdiction Multi-Sensor") which allowed for enhanced night time function of the aircraft in low light / poor weather over the crucial Ho Chi Minh Trail supply route. Again, attack systems and navigational radar were replaced for the role.

While no definitive "D" Intruder model emerged, the "KA-6D" was developed as a successor to the outgoing KA-3B "Skywarriors" in the in-flight refueling role. The KA-6D retained some of its basic bombing capabilities but was a support platform through and through. It could service other attack aircraft by carrying a specialize refueling kit which made the base A-6A a "fuel bus" of sorts, providing fuel to awaiting allies during missions. As the USN lacked a dedicated in-flight refueling tanker, the KA-6D filled this role through a the "K" conversion process and some 78 A-models and a further 12 E-models were converted to this standard.

Also in 1970 emerged the A-6E variant which introduced a new attack suite and navigation system. This mark became the final - and somewhat definitive - Intruder of the Vietnam War years. A 1980 conversion program increased weapons support to include precision-guided ordnance. A large portion of the fleet were also given new wing assemblies due to combat and service life fatigue over the ensuing decade. E-models eventually totaled 445 units of which 240 were brought along from existing A-, B-, C-model stocks.

The A-6F became an ultimately failed bid to augment the A-6 fleet through an improved "Intruder II" concept with new, more powerful engines and onboard processing systems. Five prototypes were completed but USN authorities decided against the costly endeavor. The A-6G was, therefore, a Grumman-sponsored "budget alternative" of the F-model but went nowhere as well.

The EA-6A was a USMC Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) variant which numbered 28 airframes (distinguished by their vertical fin bulge housing the antennas). The type first flew on April 26th, 1963 and eventually was made from a stock of 15 new-build models and 11 converted A-6A airframes. The USMC used these specially outfitted aircraft over Vietnam where they replaced the aging stock of Douglas F3D "Skyknights" in the same role. Equipment included the AN/APQ-129 Fire Control Radar (FCR) and AN/APN-153 series navigation system and EA-6As soldiered on up to the late 1970s before being given up.

A more dedicated EWA version of the Intruder family became the EA-6B "Prowler" which was given a lengthened fuselage to accommodate an additional two side-by-side crewmen (electronic warfare officers). More advanced radar, navigation, and processing systems greeted this type and gave the USN a potent alternative to the USAF-sponsored EF-111 "Ravens" that it relied on in combat zones. One other identifying quality about these aircraft was the pod fitted to the tail fin which housed the necessary antennas and underwing pods for the jammer equipment. Prowler procurement numbered 170 units for service with both the USN and USMC and were introduced during 1971 with production spanning into 1991.

The Prowler has since been replaced by the modern EA-18G "Growler" series, this specialized airframe based on the twin-seat Boeing F/A-18 "Super Hornet" line.

For the 1980s, American attention had turned away from Southeast Asia and centered more and more on involvement in Middle East affairs. In 1983, the A-6 was called to service over Lebanon in support of an international peacekeeping measure under the banner of the United Nations. Combat found the series once more when they launched in anger against targets in Libya. In 1991, Intruders formed the carrier-based strike arm of the U.S.-led coalition in the Persian Gulf as it laid waste to the Iraqi air force and army during Operation Desert Storm where precision-guided capabilities were put to tremendous use. Both USN and USMC Intruders were used in the war with only three lost to enemy fire. After the war, Intruders served with coalition forces in maintaining the UN-imposed "No Fly Zones" over northern and southern Iraq. Its next actions in the region brought it over Somalia during Operation Restore Hope (1992-1993) while final sorties were in eastern Europe against enemy targets in Bosnia during 1994.

By the middle of the decade, the Intruder design had all but run its course as a frontline USN player, having seen consistent combat service throughout most of the major American engagements of the latter 20th Century. Time and technology advances eventually crept into a decision to begin a drawdown of the A-6 fleet. The McDonnell Douglas A-12 "Avenger II" - a triangle-shaped naval stealth bomber - was, at one point, envisioned to be the A-6's high-tech replacement but the project went nowhere and ended as an over-funded black eye for the USN. Once the Grumman F-14 Tomcat air defense interceptor was given a long-awaited ground attack capability, the A-6 was formally retired to help better streamline and standardize the types of aircraft serving aboard American carriers. The F-14 was then, itself, retired and replaced by the multirole F/A-18 "Hornet" which, in turn, gave rise to a two-seat platform as the "Super Hornet". The Super Hornet handles both the role of fleet defense (as the F-14 did) while taking on strike sorties as needed (as in the A-6).

The A-6 Intruder was never exported beyond American shores. Total production netted 693 aircraft of all variant types mentioned.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (644mph).

    Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Grumman A-6E / TRAM Intruder's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
693
693


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
  Compare this entry against other aircraft using our Comparison Tool  
National Flag Graphic
Origin: United States
Year: 1963
Type: Carrierborne All-Weather Heavy Strike Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Grumman - USA
Production: 693
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Global Operators:
United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Grumman A-6E / TRAM Intruder model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
2


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
54.76 ft


Meters
16.69 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
52.17 ft


Meters
15.9 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
16.08 ft


Meters
4.9 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
27,613 lb


Kilograms
12,525 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
58,599 lb


Kilograms
26,580 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
2 x Pratt & Whitney J52-P-8B turbojet engines developing 9,300lb of standard thrust.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
644 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
1,036 kph


Knots
559 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
1,081 mi


Kilometers
1,739 km


Nautical Miles
939 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
44,619 ft


Meters
13,600 m


Miles
8.45 mi

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an air-to-air missile weapon
Graphical image of a short-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of a medium-range air-to-air missile
Graphical image of an aircraft air-to-surface missile
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-radar/anti-radiation missile
Graphical image of an aircraft anti-ship missile
Graphical image of an aircraft conventional drop bomb munition
Graphical image of an aircraft guided bomb munition
Armament - Hardpoints (5):

Up to 18,000 lbs of mission-specific ordnance including MK-84 Cluster Bombs, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, AGM-130 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation / anti-radar missiles, AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II and GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bombs.
Variants: Series Model Variants
• A-6 "Intruder" - Base Series Designation
• G-128 - Grumman company model
• A2F - Initial Development Designation
• YA2F-1 - Development model designation of which 8 were ordered; fitted with 2 x Pratt & Whitney J52-P-6 turbojet engines.
• A-6 - Redesignation in 1962.
• A-6A - Initial production model designation of which 482 were produced; fitted with 2 x J52-P-8A/B engines; increased rudder size; digital navigation and attack systems integrated.
• A-6B - Conversion Interdictor Model based on A-6A; simplified avionics systems; provision for AGM-78 Standard anti-radar missile system.
• A-6C - Night Attack Variant fitted with forward-looking infrared systems and low-light TV sensors; 12 produced.
• KA-6D - In-flight Refueling Tanker Variant.
• A-6E - Strike Aircraft Model fitted with either J52-P-8B or J52-P-408 engines; improved systems throughout; solid-state electronics implemented.
• A-6E TRAM - Similar to the A-6E model; fitted with Target Recognition and Attack Multisensor (hence the TRAM designation) package in under-fuselage housing.
• EA-6A - Electronic Warfare Model of United States Marine Corps use.
• EA-6B "Prowler" - Electronic Warfare Model of the United States Navy specialized for carrier operations.