A-4s during the war in Southeast Asia
When direct intervention in Vietnam began, the Navy operated 15 attack carriers. Each CAW (Carrier Air Wing) had three attack squadrons; two with A-4s, and A-4s also equipped twelve Marine squadrons.
Continuous carrier air strikes began in February 1965, and in June 1965, Marine A-4 squadrons began rotating to Chu Lai, Vietnam, for land-based close-support missions that continued until June 28, 1973. Every type of non-nuclear weapon available to the A-4 was used during that war.
The need to release Skyhawks for active duty led to a two-place trainer version, retaining most of the armament capabilities. Two prototypes were completed as the TA-4E and the first flew June 30, 1965. Beginning in May 1966, 238 TA-4F two-seaters were produced, followed by 293 TA-4J trainers with J52-P-6 engines.
Both surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles became a serious threat in Vietnam when a Navy VA-23 A-4E was killed by an SA-2 on August 11, 1965. An avionics pod with ECM gear atop the fuselage was soon added to the last new Navy Skyhawk, the A-4F first flown August 31, 1966. With a new engine, ejection seat, and wing landing spoilers, the original A-4F was followed by 146 production examples, beginning in June 1967. Their ECM hump was also retrofitted on all A-4Es in service, proving a defense against SAMs, but light AAA still made low-altitude strikes costly.
Skyhawk development continues
Authority to proceed on 48 single-seat A-4Hs, the first American planes officially sold to Israel, was granted on October 10, 1966. The first was painted with U.S. Navy serial number and markings when it flew on October 27, 1967. It was similar to the A-4F, but for a drag chute and two 30-mm DEFA guns with 150 rpg to replace the 20-mm guns.
Israeli also acquired 60 used A-4E, 17 TA-4F and received a total of 90 A-4H and ten TA-4H aircraft by 1969. Skyhawks became the main IAF attack force during the three-year “War of Attrition” begun in March 1969, targeting hostile radar and weapons sites.
A long Skyhawk life at Navy shore stations was assured by the decision to upgrade 100 A-4Cs to the A-4L configuration. New engines and avionics were installed, and the first flew on August 21, 1969. Weapons options still included a Mk 28 nuclear store, two 564-pound AGM-12B Bullpups, or 12 300-pound bombs.
New Zealand bought ten single-seat A-4Ks and four TA-4K two-seaters for her Navy, the first flown on November 10, 1969, with delivery beginning in the following January. Malaysia and Indonesia acquired second-hand aircraft from Israel.