On April 20, 1967, VAW-116 was commissioned and received the E-2B aircraft. The Sun Kings completed three Far-East deployments as part of Attack Carrier Air Wing FIFTEEN and two while attached to Attack Carrier Air Wing NINE.
In July 1975, VAW-116 transferred to Attack Carrier Air Wing EIGHT. Concurrently, the west coast VAW community, including VAW-116, moved from Naval Air Station North Island to Naval Air Station Miramar. Reassigned to Carrier Air Wing EIGHT, the Sun Kings saw duty in the North Atlantic in 1975.
In 1976, VAW-116 embarked on USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) for a Mediterranean deployment. The squadron transferred to Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN embarked on USS FORESTALL (CV-59) in 1977, and deployed to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic in March of 1978.
During 1979-1980, VAW-116 transitioned to the E-2C and deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans from February 26, 1980 to October 15, 1980 aboard USS CONSTELLATION (C V 64) in support of Iranian Contingency Operations.
The squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) in July 1981. On April 7, 1982, the squadron embarked on USS RANGER (CV 61) for another Western Pacific-Indian Ocean deployment. Returning in October 1982, the Sun Kings remained with CVW-2 aboard USS KITTY HAWK (CV 63), later deploying on January 13, 1984.
In July of 1987, the Sun Kings deployed aboard USS RANGER for a six-month Western Pacific-Indian Ocean deployment providing support for the re-flagged Kuwaiti Tanker missions. On February 24, 1989 the squadron deployed aboard USS RANGER to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, supporting operations with the Royal Thai and Omani Air Forces, respectively.
VAW-116 embarked aboard USS RANGER on December 8, 1990 in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. During Operation DESERT STORM, the squadron flew 1,364 total flight hours and spent 93 days on station in the Arabian Gulf.
The Sun Kings returned on January 31, 1993 from a separate, yet highly successful Western Pacific deployment in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH in Iraq and Operation RESTORE HOPE in Somalia, winning the coveted Battle Efficiency "E" Award for 1992. In February of 1993, the Sun Kings commenced a transition from the E-2C Group 0 to the E-2C Group II aircraft. The Group II weapons system represented a tremendous advancement in avionics, communications, propulsion, and navigation systems.
In May of 1993, VAW-116 deployed to the Republic of Panama in support of Joint Task Force FOUR (JTF-4) Operations. Upon returning, the Sun Kings were awarded the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Excellence Award for 1992. This remarkable achievement recognized the Sun Kings as the premier VAW Squadron for the entire E-2C community.
In November of 1993, VAW-116 commenced a rigorous work up cycle at NAS Fallon, Nevada. This cycle included "Rim of the Pacific" (RIMPAC 94), in which CVW-2 conducted joint operations with five other nations, and culminated in Pacific Fleet exercises in August and September 1994.
On November 10, 1994, VAW-116 embarked on USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) on a Western Pacific-Arabian Gulf deployment. The Sun Kings provided vital AEW and battle group coverage off the coast of North Korea and supported Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq.
In June 1995 and February 1996, the Sun Kings deployed to conduct surveillance operations at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, in support of Joint Inter-agency Task Force East (JIATF-EAST).
On April 1, 1997, the squadron embarked on USS CONSTELLATION for another Western Pacific-Arabian Gulf deployment. During the six-month deployment the squadron provided vital surveillance of Iraq in support of the United Nations’ “No Fly Zone” as part of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Additionally, the squadron participated in military exercises with the Pakistani Air Force.
In February and March of 1998 the squadron again deployed to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico to conduct counter narcotics surveillance operations in support of JIATF-EAST.
On June 18, 1999, VAW-116 embarked on USS CONSTELLATION to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf. During the next six months, VAW-116 provided surveillance of Iraq in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. After this successful deployment, the squadron was honored with the Chief of Naval Operations Safety "S" Award for 1999.
In January 2000, the squadron deployed again to conduct surveillance operations at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico in Support of JIATF-EAST.
The Sun Kings deployed aboard USS CONSTELLATION to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf from March 15 to September 15, 2001, providing AEW for Operation SOUTHERN WATCH over Iraq.
In November 2001, the squadron detached to Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia in support of Operation NOBLE EAGLE. During this operation, the Sun Kings assisted in providing continual AEW coverage over the eastern US coast as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
VAW-116 embarked on USS CONSTELLATION to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf in October 2002. The Sun Kings flew extensive Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (ABC2) missions in support of the US Army V Corps’ and the US Marine Corps II MEF’s invasion of Iraq and advance on Baghdad during the initial weeks of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and later in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.
In November 2003, the Sun Kings initiated a transition to the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 airframe. VAW-116 completed the transition in August 2004 with delivery of the squadron’s fourth and final aircraft. The Sun Kings embarked on USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72) in October of 2004, to execute a surge deployment to the Western Pacific. They completed integrated warfare training in the vicinity of Hawaii before transiting further west.
Their deployment was extended when Carrier Strike Group NINE (CSG-9) was called to provide humanitarian assistance in Operation UNIFIED ASSISTANCE in Banda Aceh, Indonesia as a result of the earthquakes and tsunamis that struck the area. The Sun Kings aided in the effort by sending Sailors ashore to distribute much needed food and medical aid to the wounded disaster victims.
The squadron returned to sea in March 2006 on a Western Pacific deployment in support of Exercises FOAL EAGLE, VALIANT SHIELD, and RIMPAC. VAW-116 became semi-famous in 2006 for its remake of the "Pump It" music video, originally performed by The Black Eyed Peas. The video originated as a project onboard the ship to boost morale. “Pump It” has received nearly 4 million views on YouTube. The sequel, a remake of OutKast's video "Hey Ya," included every single member of the Sun Kings and has received more than one million views. Both videos have been shown on national television, as well as news programs in other countries.
Upon their return from deployment in 2006, the Sun Kings began to upgrade their aircraft inventory to the eight-bladed New Propeller 2000 (NP2K) system. This upgrade was completed in March 2007, just after the squadron returned from detachment to Fallon, Nevada. In May 2007, the Sun Kings completed NP2K carrier qualification aboard USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (CVN 75) off the coast of Virginia.
In March 2008, the Sun Kings embarked with CVW-2 aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN for deployment to the US Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR). They participated in Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM and provided critical tanker and airspace management for strike and support aircraft. During the deployment, the squadron earned the CVW-2 Deployment Top Hook award and the chief petty officer (CPO) mess was presented the Broadsword Award for the most distinguished CPO mess in CVW-2. They returned home in October 2008.
The Sun Kings deployed aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN under the command of CSG-9 in September 2010, once again operating in the US Fifth Fleet AOR. During this deployment, VAW-116 had the privilege of performing several touch-and-go landings aboard the French aircraft carrier, FS CHARLES DE GAULLE. Following their support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN, the Sun Kings returned to Point Mugu, CA in the spring of 2011.
In December 2011, VAW-116 deployed to the US Fifth Fleet AOR aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN as part of CSG-9, and conducted more than 2000 mishap-free flight hours and 550 aircraft sorties in support of US Fifth Fleet operations, including Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. On a daily basis, the Sun Kings provided AEW, ABC2, and communications relay support between surface and airborne assets in the joint and combined theater. The Sun Kings returned to Point Mugu, CA in August 2012 and transitioned to CVW-17 on 1 October 2012. VAW-116 was recognized on several levels, including receipt of the CVW-2 Golden Wrench Maintenance Award, the COMMACCLOGWING FY11 Fourth Quarter Safety ‘S’ Award, the Retention Excellence Award, as well as the Blue ‘M’ Excellence Award for medical readiness, and the Surgeon General’s Blue ‘H’ Gold Star Health Promotion and Wellness Award.
The Sun Kings deployed in August 2014 for ten months onboard the USS CARL VINSON (CVN 70) in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. They provided vital AEW, TAC C2, and communication relay to friendly forces primarily in 5th Fleet, where they spent six months of the deployment. Upon returning home from the longest scheduled deployment since the Vietnam War, the Sun Kings were awarded the Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific Battle ‘E’ award, the Rear Admiral Frank Akers award for best Hawkeye squadron in the fleet, and the Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety ‘S’ award.
After returning from cruise in June 2015, the Sun Kings entered the maintenance phase, repairing aircraft and developing personnel for future operations. In November 2016, the squadron began their work-up cycle in preparation for their upcoming deployment in the fall of 2017.
In October of 2017 the Sun Kings embarked on the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT, joining Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN. As the carrier entered US Pacific Command (PACOM), they took part in tri-carrier operations, executing training alongside the USS NIMITZ and USS RONALD REAGAN in the Sea of Japan. As they continued west, the Sun Kings provided Airborne Early Warning and Command and Control in support of CSG-9. While in the North Arabian Gulf, the Sun Kings also flew missions in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, and training and upkeep with other fixed and rotary wing aircraft within the Air Wing, remaining prepared for contingency operations worldwide. Throughout work-ups and deployed operations, VAW-116 completed 812 sorties, 2,354 flight hours, and 689 mishap-free carrier landings. While on deployment, the Sun Kings earned various awards in recognition of their outstanding performance including earning the coveted CVW-17 Golden Wrench award for maintenance excellence.