But Marines want to keep EA-6Buntil electronic version of Joint Strike Fighter is ready

Boeing and mission system supplier Raytheon are to pursue an electronic attack (EA) version of the planned A-45 unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) for the US Air Force. Meanwhile Boeing is lobbying for the funding to launch development of the EA-18G version of the Super Hornet for the US Navy.

Despite Department of Defense moves to look for a joint electronic attack replacement for the Northrop Grumman EA-6B, the three US services are continuing to consider separate solutions. The USN remains focused on the EA-18, the US Marine Corps wants to keep the EA-6B Prowler until an electronic attack Joint Strike Fighter can be fielded, while the USAF prefers a distributed EA architecture.

The USAF is considering a network of receiver and jammer platforms, with a focus on electronic attack rather than suppression of enemy air defences as the A-45's initial capability. "There is significant interest in EA and we are looking at the concept of operations and working closely with Boeing and USAF to assess the best package," says Heidi Shyu, director Raytheon unmanned combat vehicles.

Boeing is expecting a contract shortly to begin work on the X-45B Spiral 1 UCAV demonstrator, intended to be closely representative of the operational vehicle and due to fly in 2005. The USAF is looking to field an initial 14 Spiral 2 A-45s in 2007-08. Work on Spiral 3 will start in 2006 and Spiral 4 in 2007. Future UCAV capabilities will include directed energy weapons.

Boeing continues to work on a manned solution to the navy's needs. It had been hoping to build 180 EA-18Gs under a joint-service programme, but a sole USN buy would halve the number. Boeing has also looked at several alternatives to new-build aircraft that could accelerate entry into service and lower costs. The EA-18G is priced at $60 million each and is due to enter service in 2009.

Options include equipping two-seat F/A-18Fs to take the EA-6B's ICAP III receiver and ALQ-99 jammer pods as a retrofit, or wiring just the Super Hornet's wing. "You make the assumption that the antennas will work there when they have not been tested," says Pat Finneran, Boeing vice-president USN/USMC programmes.

Source: Flight International