Officially entering service in 1963, the A-6 Intruder played an active role at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, paved the way for the United States to enter the Vietnam War.
Flying from American aircraft carriers off the coast, Intruders struck targets across North and South Vietnam for the duration of the conflict. It was supported in this role by US Air Force attack aircraft such as the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and modified McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. During the course of operations over Vietnam, a total of 84 A-6 Intruders were lost with the majority downed by anti-aircraft artillery and other ground fire.
After the Vietnam War, the A-6 Intruder continued to serve in this role, and one was lost during operations in Lebanon in 1983. Three years later, A-6s participated in the bombing of Libya following Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s support of terrorist activities.
The A-6’s final wartime missions came in 1991 during the Gulf War. Flying as part of Operation Desert Sword, US Navy and Marine Corps A-6s flew 4,700 combat sorties. These included a wide array of attack missions ranging from anti-aircraft suppression and ground support to destroying naval targets and conducting strategic bombing. In the course of the fighting, three A-6s were lost to enemy fire.
With the conclusion of hostilities in Iraq, A-6s remained to help enforce the no-fly zone over that country. Other Intruder units conducted missions in support of US Marine Corps activities in Somalia in 1993 as well as Bosnia in 1994.
The attack role eventually was assigned to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The last Intruder departed active service on February 28, 1997.
The A-6 Intruder is powered by two Pratt & Whitney J52-P8B turbojets, with 41 kN thrust each. It can reach a top speed of 1,040 km/h at sea level, a cruise speed of 763 km/h, a combat range of 1,626 km, a service ceiling of 12,900 m, and a rate of climb of 38.7 m/s.
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.
For its day, the Intruder had sophisticated avionics, with a high degree of integration. To aid in identifying and isolating equipment malfunctions, the aircraft was provided with automatic diagnostic systems, some of the earliest computer-based analytic equipment developed for aircraft.