Alarmed by a potential gap in tactical jamming resources after 2012, US Congressional supporters are seeking to restore a major upgrade to the US Navy’s Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler fleet after two years of steep cutbacks. The USN as recently as early 2004 planned to buy 62 Northrop Grumman Improved Capability (ICAP III) upgrade kits, but this total has been slashed to just 14 by Congressional appropriators.

The ICAP III programme became a target for budget cuts after development problems extended the operational test phase for a year to address deficiencies. House appropriators in June noted that the programme had encountered “significant developmental delays”, and said they would only consider restoring production funds after the system was declared operationally suitable and effective.

The USN says it is working to deploy a Block I ICAP III system that will become operational this year. A pending operational report is expected to be “positive” about the system’s progress, says Cdr Kurt Allred, co-leader of the service’s ICAP III integrated product team.

A key Congressional EA-6B supporter is pressuring navy officials to request $73 million to buy seven more ICAP III systems in fiscal year 2007, increasing its inventory of upgraded EA-6Bs to 21. Should that lobbying effort fail, the Electronic Warfare Working Group lobby will seek to insert all seven ICAP III kits as a “plus-up” amendment to the FY07 defence budget next year, says Representative Rick Larsen.

The EA-6B debate is taking shape as the US military wrestles with long-term planning for tactical jamming resources. The ICAP-III capability is expected to migrate to the Boeing EA-18G Growler after the type becomes operational in 2012. Meanwhile, the US Air Force plans to stand-up an airborne electronic attack capability in 2015 centred on a proposed jammer-equipped variant of the Boeing B-52. The US Marine Corps will early next year complete a study into its strategy to replace the EA-6B beyond 2015. It favours the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.


Source: Flight International