A Boeing executive today predicted the US Navy could buy 26 to 30 EA-18Gs more than the 88 already in the budget, potentially addresssing a shortfall created by the US Air Force 12 years ago.
For several years, the US Navy's Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers have been pulling double-duty. The EA-6B serves primarily as the carrier battle group's radar and communications jammer.
The USAF retired the General Dynamics EF-111 Raven in 1997. Ever since, some Prowlers have also been assigned to a primarily land-based mission, escorting strike packages of fighters and bombers into combat zones.
With the USN EA-6Bs scheduled to phase out in Fiscal 2012, the Pentagon faces a problem. The USAF still has not funded a replacement for the EF-111. The USN needs all 88 EA-18Gs to replace Prowlers serving only the carrier-based mission. In an age when electronic threats are growing, US forces will lose ground if the land-based EA-6Bs are not replaced.
According to Rick Martin, Boeing's EA-18G program manager, the USN could fill this gap by boosting the currently planned EA-18G fleet by about one-third. The move could also extend Boeing's common production line for F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Growlers by up to two years at current production rates.
Gen James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators at his confirmation hearing in early July that the US Air Force's prized Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor was canceled partly to pay for additional EA-18Gs that are highly in demand.
"When you hear it in the testimony from individuals like Gen Cartwright it certainly supports the need for electronic attack in theater," Martin says.
The EA-18G integrates the same suite of sensors and jammers, including ALQ-218 receiver and analog ALQ-99 jamming pods, found on the EA-6B. The Growler also adds the Raytheon APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA).
Last week, the USN announced that the EA-18 has cleared its operational evaluation. In September, Boeing must verify that it has resolved undisclosed software anomalies found during the evaluation. The EA-18G remains on track to reach initial operational capability later this year, Martin says. Boeing is also expecting to receive a full-rate production deal covering the next 54 EA-18Gs, with 34 already on contract and 12 delivered.
In addition to the potential domestic order boost, Boeing continues to pursue export orders, a market one executive previously estimated could stretch to 50 aircraft. So far, Australia has agreed to pre-wire the last 12 of 24 F/A-18Fs on order for possible conversion to the EA-18G configuration. Boeing has also proposed the idea of a "Growler Lite" suite, which would include only the sensors and exclude the jammers.