The A-6 Intruder is the world's first fully all-weather attack bomber capable of detecting and identifying tactical or strategic targets, and delivering both conventional and nuclear ordnance on them under zero-visibility conditions. This extremely accurate, low-altitude, long-range, subsonic weapons system is powered by two turbojet engines partially buried in its plump fuselage. While the Intruder may not win any beauty contests, it clearly excels in its assigned mission. The A-6 is capable of carrying all U.S. and NATO air-to-ground weapons in its five external store stations--a total payload of 18,000 pounds.
The Intruder is manned by a crew of two, pilot and bombardier-navigator, seated side by side. To assist them, the all-weather navigation and weapons delivery system provides an integrated electronic display which allows them to "see" targets and geographical features regardless of the effects of darkness or foul weather. Due to this ability, the Intruder has often been used as a pathfinder for other types of attack aircraft, allowing their use under conditions which would not normally permit a successful mission.
The A-6A first entered service in February 1963 with VA-42. The A-6B, whose primary job was the suppression of surface-to-air missiles, was basically an avionics modification of the A-6A with provisions for the Navy's anti-radiation missile. The A-6C, born of the SEAsia war, incorporates electro-optical sensors to observe and attack vehicles moving under cover of darkness.
The A-6E, last model in the series, features a multi-mode radar and an improved computer. The Intruder has been the mainstay of the Navy and Marine Corps air arms for more than three decades. It has been constantly improved upon over this time span and has been used for close-air-support, interdiction, and deep-strike missions. It is configured for both Harm and Harpoon missiles and with its radar and FLIR/laser systems, can detect, classify and attack a full range of targets.
The A-6E Intruder is being replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet and will be phased out of service within the next year or two.