US Mapping Out EA-18G Growler Development, Upgrades
Aviation Week’s Aerospace Daily reports that the U.S. Navy’s EA-18G electronic attack aircraft program is considering pursuing a next-generation jammer and other upgrades that could be fielded on the Super Hornet derivative after it enters service in a few years. Meanwhile, Boeing is starting to survey future users of the EA-18G “Growlers” to find out what upgrades they might like to see after the US Navy starts fielding the Super Hornet derivative in 2009.
While the AN/ALQ-99 radar jamming pod has received positive reviews and will initially equip the EA-18G, the US Navy’s EA-18G program manager says that it might eventually have to be replaced. The program is also exploring adding weapons and replacing the satellite communications receiver, as part of the FY 2008 budget planning process.
The EA-18G is based on Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multi-role fighter (which traces its history from the McDonnell Douglas F-18 and the Northrop YF-17), just as its predecessor the EA-6B was based on Grumman’s A-6 Intruder attack aircraft. With the retirement of the US Air Force’s swing-wing EF-111 Raven “Spark Vark,” the aging EA-6B Prowlers are now the USA’s sole remaining tactical aircraft type for radar jamming, communications jamming and information operations. They have been used over Iraq for everything from disrupting enemy IED attacks by jamming all radio signals in an area to escorting strike aircraft against heavily defended targets during the opening days of the war.
Despite some interest in creating electronic attack F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and F/A-22 Raptors by leveraging their vast installed electronic capabilities, the EA-18G is currently slated to be the only dedicated aircraft of this type in the US military’s future arsenal. Boeing plans to fly the first production EA-18G in October 2007, with Initial Operating Capability for the EA-18G expected in 2009.
The plane has faced its share of normal development challenges, including a $7 million supplemental contract aimed at helping to make its wingtip-mounted AN/ALQ-218 (V)2 radio-frequency receiver systems durable enough to withstand harsh weather. At the moment, however, the program is slightly under cost and entering the second year of a 5-year system design & development contract that began as a $979 million base contract in December 2003 and now sits at $994.3 million.
This Analisi Defensa article provides good background re: the overall program, including several of its cost-saving features.
The US Navy plans to award a contract on Nov. 30, 2005 for the first four production EA-18G Growlers, as well as for 38 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, said Lisa Nyalko, the Navy’s F/A-18 deputy program manager. The overall plan is to buy 90 aircraft to equip 10 squadrons and meet training and other needs.
Additional Readings and Sources
- Aviation Week’s Aerospace Daily (Nov 9/05) – U.S. Navy Eyes New Jammer, Other Upgrades For EA-18G.
- Australian Air Power (updated 2005) – Anatomy of the TacJammer.
- Winds of Change.NET (January 16, 2003) – Interview with a Weasel Pilot.