Boeing plans to start company-funded flight tests of jamming pods on an F/A-18F this week in support of its bid to sell an electronic attack variant of the Super Hornet to the US Navy. The two-seat aircraft will be fitted with three ALQ-99 jamming pods for two flights to collect noise and vibration data. More flights are planned for next early year, says Paul Summers, director, F/A-18 derivative programmes.

For the later flights, the aircraft will also feature wingtip pods which will house the receiver antennas on the EA-18. The initial flights will be conducted at up to 35,000ft (10,700m), Mach 0.8 and 3g, typical of a stand-off jamming orbit, he says.

Boeing's proposal is based on re-using theALQ-99 jamming pods carried by the USN's Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft, which the EA-18 is intended to replace.

For the initial flight tests, the F/A-18F will carry three pods, one on the centreline and two on the mid-wing pylons, plus two fuel tanks on the inboard wing pylons, and air-to-air missiles on the wingtip and nacelle stations.

The flights are intended to reduce risks attached to the proposal, which has yet to be accepted by the USN, although it plans to request funds in fiscal year 2003 to begin work on a follow-up to the EA-6B.

According to the latest estimates, Summers says, the EA-6Bs need to be replaced from 2008. "We have to start [EA-18 development] in 2003 if we want to deliver by 2008," he says.

Boeing's proposal involves a five-year development effort costing "a little over $1 billion in then-year dollars", says Summers. The EA-18 will cost "$7-9 million" more than an F/A-18E/F built at the same time, he adds, depending on the number and mix of E/Fs and EA-18s produced each year.

Boeing's goal is to reduce the unit flyaway cost of the F/A-18E/F below $50 million by the end of the current multi-year procurement contract.

Source: Flight International