Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Tinker Toy With an Iron Hand

The A-4 Skyhawk was a true workhorse for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. The type was in the thick of it from day one, all the way through to the end of the conflict... hauling things that go boom from the U.S. Navy's flattops to select locations in Southeast Asia.

Aside from serving as a plain 'ole bomb truck, the A-4 was also used in the SEAD role. (SEAD = Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) The average wing-nut is likely familiar with the term 'Wild Weasel'... the moniker of the U.S. Air Force's SAM hunters. Less familiar to some might be the term 'Iron Hand' which, although a joint U.S. Navy / U.S.A.F. venture, is generally considered by many to be the U.S. Navy's equivalent of the 'Wild Weasels'.

Anyhoo, regardless of who was doing the 'hunting', the job was pretty much the same. Send a few jets ahead of a main strike force to flush out the enemy's air defenses... get 'em to light up their radar and then nail 'em with 'anti-radiation' missiles. This would either destroy the radar outright or force the radar operators to shut down for a bit, at which point the hunters, who have hopefully identified the radar and/or missile/gun locations, would move in to close the deal with rockets, CBUs (CBU = Cluster Bomb Unit), or a good 'ole fashioned strafing run, assuming the jets were gun-toters. Once this was done, the main strike force could move in and hit their targets with a somewhat heightened sense of security... and the 'hunters' would stick around until the main force was on its way home.

Hence one of the SAM-hunters' mottos; 'First in, last out'.

Well, now that we've given you a brief and basic outline of an ideal 'Iron Hand' (or 'Wild Weasel') mission, here's a look at an A-4 all gussied up and headin' out 'fersum SAM-huntin'...

National Naval Aviation Museum

And here's a closer look at this jet... 'tis A-4E BuNo.151151 of VA-23 'Black Knights', part of Carrier Air Wing 2 aboard the U.S.S. Coral Sea (CVA-43) during a combat cruise that lasted from July 29th, 1966 to February 23rd, 1967. She's armed with two AGM-45 'Shrike' anti-radiation missiles on stations 2 and 4, and two LAU-3 rocket launchers on stations 1 and 5. The LAU-3 was a 19-shot launcher loaded with 2.75-inch FFAR rockets (FFAR= Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket) that could be launched individually, in rapid sequence, or all at once. And she's also got a 20mm Colt-Browning Mk.12 cannon in each wingroot.

All in all, bad news for Charlie.

National Naval Aviation Museum

More A-4s to come!

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