Boeing’s Super Hornet production line in St. Louis, Mo., would be sustained until 2017 if the U.S. Navy receives the 22 EA-18G Growler electronic warfare variants it seeks on a list of “unfunded” priorities the service has submitted to Congress. Industry and government analyses show a need for 50 to 100 more Growlers, Boeing contends.
The Navy sought 21 EA-18Gs in the current fiscal year, increasing the program of record to 135 aircraft. Its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins in October, contains no funding for Growlers. However, the service included 22 additional EA-18Gs on a list of unfunded priorities it submitted to Congress on April 1. It also seeks $12 million to start development of the second increment of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) pod that will replace the ALQ-99 tactical jamming system on the Growler, USNI News reported.
“Given the environment we’re moving into…that type of airplane plays a major role,” Capt. Frank Morley, F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, told reporters April 7 at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space conference. “As you look at all those needs and all that platform can bring to the equation, you start realizing you can use those a lot more and you continue to ID places where they can benefit.”
Mike Gibbons, Boeing’s program vice president, said the Navy has a “real need and desire” to increase the number of Growlers its airborne electronic attack squadrons fly to eight from five, which it would not achieve with the 22 new aircraft. “Boeing’s assessment is that the real need is going to be for somewhere between 50 and 100 more” to support Navy and joint services operations, he said, describing the multi-spectral threat environment expected in 2028. “That’s why we see the 22 Growlers as actually a bridge to future requirements.”
The Navy will take delivery of its final F/A-18E/F Super Hornets from Boeing in FY2015. Current plans call for the company to deliver the final EA-18Gs in 2016, along with 12 new-build Growlers the Royal Australian Air Force ordered last year. The 22 additional Growlers from the Navy’s unfunded priorities list would extend the production line to 2017, Gibbons said.
Last summer, Boeing demonstrated a stealthy, longer-range “Advanced Super Hornet” upgrade, flying an F/A-18F with representative conformal fuel tanks and enclosed weapons pod. Morley termed the demonstration a success. It “did meet our expectations,” he said. “The measurements we were able to get on signature reduction, the flying qualities, the drag counts, the conformal fuel tank shapes, were spot-on predictions. We met all the objectives of that [demonstration] and the data were very favorable. One, [the upgrade is] possible; two, we can get the benefit we think we want out of it; and three, we made some steps in risk reduction and learned some things.”
The Navy could seek some or all of the components of the Advanced Super Hornet upgrade, Morley said. “Because it’s a retrofittable solution, it’s not necessarily all or nothing,” he allowed. Still “undetermined” is whether the Navy will order an F414-GE-400 “enhanced engine” upgrade that GE Aviation is pursuing for the Super Hornet.