"During the fleet engagement on 19 June, Fighting Two was credited with 47 victories, including six by a former enlisted pilot, ENS "Spider" Webb."
From Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom
At the end of WWII, VF-2 was dis-established and remained absent from naval aviation for 27 years until it was selected to introduce the F-14 Tomcat to the fleet. Re-established at Naval Air Station Miramar 14 October 1972, the squadron completed aircrew training and received its first F-14s in July 1973. Now known as the "Bounty Hunters," full squadron strength of 12 aircraft was not reached until spring 1974 since Tomcat production was still running at a fairly low rate. Squadron markings in the 70s were among the most colorful of all F-14 units. They were composed of a blue rudder with two white stars, the NE tail code and - returning from VF-2's days as naval aviation's first carrier based squadron - the red, white, and blue Langley Stripe on the forward fuselage. The squadron flew top cover over the Saigon evacuation in Operation FREQUENT WIND. The "Bounty Hunters" also formed the TARPS unit for both CVW-14 and CVW-2, deploying aboard USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) at first, then switching to USS RANGE R (CV-61) where they stayed until 1993, apart from a single cruise aboard the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) in 1984. Along with VF-1, VF-2 took part in trials of the "splinter" camouflage tests in the late 1970's.
On 2 June 1984, the squadron became the first to launch an F-14 from an aircraft carrier while towing an air-to-air gunnery target. In 1987 the squadron logged RANGER's 260,000th landing. The unit took part in Operation DESERT STORM aboard USS RANGER, the carrier being one of two forward deployed into the Persian Gulf. VF-2 flew over 500 combat missions and 1900 combat flight hours during the forty-three day war. The squadron performed escort, reconnaissance, and CAP missions, playing an important part in ensuring the safety of Navy bombers to and from targets. When RANGER was decommissioned in 1993, the squadron was left without a carrier. In 1994 it was decided to make VF-2 one of only three squadrons that would upgrade to the F-14D Super Tomcat. Having completed the transition, the squadron was assigned to the newly refurbished USS CONSTELLATION (CV-64).
After the 1995 cruise VF-2 returned to NAS Miramar but were only in residence for a few months before beginning the process of moving to the home of all F-14 Tomcat squadrons: Naval Air Station Oceana. Following the move in April 1996, VF-2 began training in earnest for its next deployment. During the later stages of this period the "Bounty Hunters" gained F-14s modified to carry the LANTIRN laser designation pod, giving them a precision strike capability. Not all squadron aircraft were modified, the usual being 9 out of 14. During this period the F-14 passed 25 years of Navy service. To commemorate the event, Grumman repainted an a F-14D from VF-2 in the 1970s light gull gray and white camouflage scheme, adding a "25 Years - The Cat is Back" logo on the inside of the tails. The aircraft was an F-14A rebuilt to F-14D standards and one of the oldest still flying. VF-2 received this honor for having flown the F-14 the longest.
September of 1998 saw VF-2 back on the missile ranges, this time flying from Naval Air Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico. Four F-14Ds launched a five missiles - three AIM-54s and two AIM-7s - during one flight. Once again the firepower of the F-14 and the dedication of the people who work on it had been demonstrated. Almost as soon as they arrived back in Oceana, the "Bounty Hunters" worked to demonstrate a new capability: air-to-ground weaponry. The decommissioned cruiser USS BELKNAP was attacked by various squadrons for training. Four F-14Ds from VF-2 made three diving attack runs each, echoing the dive-bombing performance of LCDR Wagner in 1926. Best results came when a VF-2 crew managed to drop bombs down the smokestacks.
2003 was one of many milestones for the "Bounty Hunters." The path from work-ups to combat ops to Naval Air Station Lemoore was no easy journey. Accomplishing the tasks required the hard work and professionalism of all aircrew and personnel.
In 2003, VF-2 was deployed aboard the USS CONSTELLATION with CVW-2 and participated in Operations ENDURING FREEDOM, SOUTHERN WATCH, and IRAQI FREEDOM, flying over 2000 combat hours and 483 sorties with over 320,000 pounds of ordnance expended. On 28 February 2003, during Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, Bullet 111, flown by CDR Dave "Burner" Burnham and LT Justin "Donger" Hsu, delivered the first F-14D JDAM in combat. VF-2's behind-the-scenes efforts were the driving force behind the early release of the Operational Flight Program (OFP) D04. The "Bounty Hunters" worked hand-in-hand with former Bullet LT Ken "Norm" Bates, VX-31, VX-9, Pax River, and the Class Desk to ensure that the F-14D community would have its badly needed JDAM capability in time for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Due to the foresight and persistent efforts of VF-2, all three deployed F-14D squadrons were ready for the war. After the long trip across the Pacific, VF-2's May fly-off ended 30 years of flying the F-14. However somber the moment wa s, the aircrew and maintainers were anxious to recharge from cruise and meet the new challenges that lay ahead.
As the squadron made its way back across the states for its fly-in at NAS Oceana, Bullet 100 of VF-2, flown by LCDR Kurt "Webstur" Frankenberger and CDR Doug "Boog" Denenny, was met by Bullet 100 of VFA-2, one of the jets that they would be flying in a few short months. As the two jets joined up, the bright red, white, and blue Langley stripes painted on both aircraft made for a memorable photo op that marked the end of an era as well as an awesome preview of what was to come. On 1 July 2003, VF-2 was officially re-commissioned as VFA-2, thus beginning transition training to the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
On 6 October, VFA-2 took delivery of its first F/A-18F, wearing the traditional Langley Stripe. All in all, the transition took only four and a half months, the shortest time ever for a Tomcat-to-Super Hornet transition. VFA-2 made its first deployment with the new F/A-18F Super Hornet and CVW-2 beginning in October 2004. As part of the Navy's new war fighting strategy known as the Fleet Response Plan, CVW-2 and the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72) were chosen to be the first emergency surge Carrier Air Wing. The "Bounty Hunters" deployed with their new aircraft on a unique 4 1/2 month deployment which included Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE after a tragic tsunami struck Sumatra, Indonesia in December of 2004. Following the humanitarian efforts, VFA-2 participated in the two-week international training exercise COPE TIGER 2005, working with Air Forces from the United States, Thailand, and Singapore.
One month following the 2005 surge deployment, VFA-2 began training for their 2006 deployment with detachments to NAS Fallon, NAS Key West, and the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. While underway, VFA-2 participated in exercises FOAL EAGLE in South Korea, VALIANT SHIELD in Guam, and RIMPAC in Hawaii. These multinational exercises included countries such as Australia, China, Chile, Peru, South Korea, and Singapore. From March to October 2008, the Bounty Hunters were deployed to the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf as part of the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN Carrier Strike Group, operating in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM and OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM. In 2009, VFA-2 was recognized as the Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific 2008 Battle Efficiency Award for the eighth time in the squadron's history. Just weeks after learning they won the 2008 West Coast "Battle E" for Super Hornet squadrons, the VFA-2 Bounty Hunters were awarded the 2008 Rear Admiral C. Wade McClusky Award for their performance on cruise in 2008. These two prestigious awards capped a banner year for the Bullets and are a testament to the quality of the men and women on the Bounty Hunter team.
Shortly after the very successful 2008 deployment, VFA-2 began preparing for future operations with a very busy year of training and detachments. The Bullets were able to send a detachment to NAS Key West to partake in a joint tactical training exercise with various types of aircraft, honing their skills in the Air-to-Air arena. Throughout the year, various detachments onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN ensured not only the aircrew were maintaining their carrier qualifications, but also to keep Bullet maintainers and the flight deck crew proficient and ready for future operations.
2010 began quickly with preparation for a demanding workup cycle and 2010-2011 combat deployment. Multiple detachments to NAS Fallon and USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN tested VFA-2's ability to plan, brief, and fly large force exercises and evaluated their overall mission effectiveness. These arduous training environments prepared VFA-2 for their deployment in support of OPERATION NEW DAWN and OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM from September 2010 to March 2011. VFA-2 proved to be an vital asset to the CVW-2 team, contributing to the 100% combat sortie completion rate. Flying 424 combat sorties for a combined 2,515 combat flight hours, the Bullets employed 4,500 pounds of ordnance and over 1,500 rounds of 20mm ammunition during close air support missions for coalition ground forces n Afghanistan.
Returning home to families and friends, VFA-2 was able to enjoy some time home before again beginning the challenging and demanding workup cycle to prepare for their next deployment. The Bullets were very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in joint Exercise NORTHERN EDGE at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska in June of 2011. VFA-2 personnel and 6 aircraft participated in this event which would test and expose the squadron to various aspects of large force exercises and joint service integration. This bi-annual event has proven an important joint exercise, incorporating Navy, Marine, Air Force, Coast Guard, and other active and reserve units. Following Exercise NORTHERN EDGE VFA-2 was again detached to NAS Fallon for more training and preparation for the upcoming deployment.
In December of 2011, VFA-2 embarked on another combat Deployment scheduled to support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. This deployment is unique for VFA-2 and CVW-2 in that the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN departed NAS North Island, California but will return to NAS Norfolk, Virginia for refurbishment and scheduled maintenance. This around the world sail will be the first for most of the sailors in VFA-2 and will allow them to see many parts of the world with planned port calls in Thailand, Bahrain, Dubai, and Turkey.
In February 2012, the Bounty Hunters of Strike Fighter Squadron TWO learned they were recipients of the 2011 Command, Naval Air Forces RADM C. Wade McClusky award recognizing them as the preeminent Super Hornet squadron in the Navy. Earning the 2011 Commander, Naval Air Force Pacific Battle Efficiency award for the ninth time in squadron history put VFA-2 in the running for the McClusky award. The McClusky and Battle "E" were awarded to VFA-2 for achieving the highest standards of excellence as leaders in aircraft, combat readiness, as well as tactical employment. These two awards are a testament to the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice the Bounty Hunters of VFA-2 have made throughout 2011 and into 2012.
In 2013, the Bounty Hunters, along with CVW-2, changed home ships to the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN-76) In early 2014, CVW-2 began an arduous work-up cycle, compressing a normally year long process into a grueling six months, both at sea and at NAS Fallon, NV. In June of 2014, the Bounty Hunters deployed onboard the USS RONALD REAGAN for the 2014 "Rim of the Pacific" (RIMPAC), the wold's largest international maritime exercise, involing 22 nations cooperating in complex and robust wartime scenarios.
In late 2015, the Bullets completed an unprecedented three hull swap between the USS RONALD REAGAN, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, and USS CARL VINSON. In winter 2015 they completed the 3 month Southern Seas Transit around South America from San Diego to Norfolk aboard the WASHINGTON.
During the spring of 2016, the "Bullets" started work-ups for what would be come an almost three year deployment and sustainment cycle. After executing four successful detachments to NAS Fallon and aboard CVW-2's new home, the USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70), they deployed on their 2017 WESTPAC. While at sea, they made port calls in Guam, South Korea, Singapore, and Hawaii. While executing their mission of strategic deterrence and freedom of navigation operations in the vicinity of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the People's Republic of China, VFA-2, along with the rest of the CARRIER STRIKE GROUP ONE (CSG-1), made headlines around the world. Making their presence known, the Bounty Hunters contributed to the overall mission of ensuring freedom of navigation in the contested waters of the South China Sea and helped deter the aggressive ballistic missile operations of the DPRK.
Returning home six months later after a highly successful 2017 WESTPAC, the "Bullets" immediately began work-ups yet again in order to deploy on another WESTPAC in January of 2018. Detaching to NAS Fallon and the CARL VINSON yet again, VFA-2 met the tight turnaround schedule in stride and was fully mission capable by the time that they left San Diego in January . Heading to a familiar part of the world for most of the squadron now, the Bounty Hunters executed similar strategic deterrence operations in the South China Sea. While underway, CARL VINSON made port calls in Guam, Manila, and a historic port call in Da Nang, Viet Nam. This last visit would mark the first time in history that an aircraft carrier visited the communist country of Viet Nam and was proof of the great strides that the United States and Viet Nam are making to help solidify partnerships in the region. Returning home to Lemoore in April, Fighting Two utilized a quick two month break to recharge and re-cage their minds in preparation for their mission.