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ARLINGTON, Va. — Nineteen of the Navy and Marine Corps’ 119-aircraft fleet of radar-jamming EA-6B Prowlers have been grounded after crews discovered problems with the planes’ wings, officials said Wednesday.

Five of the affected planes belong to the Marine Corps; the rest are Navy planes.

Twelve of the aircraft have shown signs of cracking in the center wing section, which is bolted to the fuselage. The problem, if tackled alone, could take up to six months to repair, but will be done in conjunction with other major overhaul maintenance jobs to the Prowlers, said Navy Capt. John Scheffler, the EA-6B Prowler Program Manager at Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, Md.

The other seven planes have shown problems with the outer wing panels, which can be fixed within two days at the squadron level, Scheffler said.

The EA-6B Prowler, which first became operational in 1971, is the Navy and Marine Corps’ principal electronic warfare aircraft and is used to protect ships by jamming enemy radar and communications.

Two of the 19 affected Prowlers are aboard the San Diego- based aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, now on deployment in the Indian Ocean. A third Prowler on the Nimitz is not affected.

The Nimitz-based Prowlers are afflicted with the outer wing problems, and the Navy is rushing to get mechanics new panels. In the meantime, good panels can be used to supplement the cracking ones in the event the aircraft are needed before repairs can be made, Scheffler said.

The two Nimitz-based Prowlers are the only two grounded outside of United States. The other bases affected are the Navy base Whidbey Island, Wash., and the Marine Corps base at Cherry Point, N.C. The Navy squadron based at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan, is not affected by the “red striping,” or grounding, of the planes.

The Prowler wing problems were discovered through routine and “fairly exhaustive” analysis of the aging aircraft, and have not been linked to any crashes or accidents, Scheffler said. Scheffler could not provide a cost estimate to repair the wing problems.


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