A-4 Skyhawks in World War III
The McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, which had borne the brunt of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps' light attack war in Southeast Asia, had a distinguished career in the Third World War. Still in USMC active and reserve service at the outbreak of war, the Skyhawk saw extensive service with the USMC, and also the USAF, which acquired a number of Skyhawks to rebuild former ANG A-7 squadrons that had suffered extensive combat losses. The Skyhawk also saw war service with the RAN, RNZAF, Malaysia, and the Republic of Singapore AF (the latter two on anti-piracy operations). This work will only cover those Skyhawks that saw combat during the war.
A list of Skyhawk variants and users:
A-4E: Major upgrade of C version, with uprated J-52 engine, strengthened airframe with two extra weapons pylons with a total of five, TACAN, Doppler navigation radar, LABS, radar altimeter, and toss-bombing computer.
A-4F: Upgraded E with avionics hump and more powerful J-52 engine. Some used by USN off of Essex-class carriers in lieu of A-7s.
A-4G: F version for RAN, without avionics hump.
A-4K “Project Kahu (Kahu- Hawk in Maori): an upgraded A-4K, originally developed as a private offering for foreign users by a joint Hughes Aircraft/McDonnell Douglas working group. The upgrades included deleting the dorsal avionics hump; installing an APG-65 radar, a ring-laser gyro, improved ESM/ECM equipment, and other modern avionics; and wiring the aircraft to accept modern guided weapons including GBU-12/-16 laser-guided bombs, the AIM-9H/L/P Sidewinder and AIM-7F/M Sparrow air-to-air missiles, the AGM-65D/E/G Maverick air-to-surface missile, and the AGM-88A HARM anti-radiation missile. Three A-4F airframes were converted as testbeds/flying demonstrators pre-war and were being flown in extended trials by a joint RNZAF/RAN detachment at the outbreak of World War III; as more A-4F/M airframes arrived from AMARC, the working-group performed the upgrade work at-cost for the RNZAF. 487 (NZ) Squadron was stood-up when five more aircraft had been completed and sufficient pilots had arrived from NZ; the newly-reactivated squadron was immediately transferred to NAS Whidbey Island in Washington State and fought as part of RAF Canada throughout the war. The surviving men and aircraft of 487 Squadron returned to New Zealand in 1990; the RNZAF’s extant A-4K airframes, in active service with 75 Squadron, remained in New Zealand throughout WWIII and were upgraded to Kahu standard in 1992. The A-4Kahu was replaced in RNZAF service by the JAS-39E/F Gryphon (starting 2008, finishing 2012); the retired airframes, thirty-one A-4Kahu and eight TA-4Kahu trainers, are currently in storage pending a final decision about their disposition.
A-4L: Upgrade of C with avionics hump,though with J-65 engine and only three weapons pylons. Reactivated from desert storage and used by USMC.
A-4M: Definite USMC version, with ARBS with TV and laser spot tracker. Production restarted during the war to fill attrition and for USAF.
A-4PTM: Modified A-4C and L with most of the features of the M. For Malaysian Air Force. (PTM stands for Peculiar to Malaysia)
A-4S: 50 Bs remanufactured for Republic of Singapore AF; later upgraded again to A-4SU standard.
A-4S-1: 50 Cs remanufactured for Singapore
A-4G “Project Goshawk”: Royal Australian Navy equivalent of RNZAF “Project Kahu” (q.v.), operated from light carrier HMAS Melbourne. Ten surviving A-4Gs and four TA-4G trainers were converted to this standard in the period of 1985-1987. In 1988, the RAN chose to replace these refurbished airframes with new-build A-4Ms constructed in Singapore (with a similar avionics suite); as these aircraft were delivered, the ‘Goshawk’ A-4Gs were transferred to the RNZAF and redesignated as A-4Kahu.
TA-4J: Two-seat training version used throughout the war by USN Training Command, and by Navy Composite Squadrons in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guantanamo for local defense.
TA-4K: Training version of A-4K for RNZAF
TA-4PTM: Training version of A-4PTM
TA-4S: Training version of A-4S.
OA-4M: Modified TA-4Fs used by USMC for Forward Air Control duties.