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EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack Aircraft
F/A-18G "Growler"

On September 28, 2010, Boeing Cannounced it had been awarded a new multi-year procurement contract valued at $5.297 billion from the U.S. Navy for 124 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft. Under the terms of the agreement, Boeing is to deliver 66 Super Hornets and 58 Growlers to the Navy from 2012 through 2015.

The E/A-18G is the Navy's replacement for the EA-6B Airborne Electronic Attack aircraft and represents an entirely new way of looking at legacy aircraft replacement. Leveraging existing production capabilities at Boeing and Northrop Grumman, the Navy is using the F/A-18E/F MYC to buy an additional quantity of 'F' Aircraft, and marrying those airframes with Northrop Grumman's in-production Improved Capabilities (ICAP)- III Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) system to produce the E/A- 18G to replace the aging EA-6B aircraft. This allows for the next generation Airborne Electronic Attack capability to be delivered at reduced cost and in the shortest possible timeframe. The Marine Corps is examining a range of possibilities that will provide the needed capability.

In late September 2006 the Boeing Company delivered the first EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft to the US Navy test site at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD. The first EA-18G, known as aircraft EA-1, made the two-hour flight from St. Louis to Maryland with U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Matt Doyle and weapons system operator U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jamie Engdahl on board. EA-1 is the first of two test aircraft built under a System Development and Demonstration contract Boeing signed with the Navy on Dec. 29, 2003. In addition to flight testing, EA-1 will undergo extensive ground testing in the Patuxent River anechoic chamber to assess on-board radar, receiver and jammer compatibility and performance. The second EA-18G will join the flight test program at Patuxent River later this year.

The E/A-18G is the fourth major variant of the F/A-18 family of aircraft. The EA-18G will serve as the Navy's replacement for the EA-6B providing a capability to detect, identify, locate, and suppress hostile emitters. The EA-18G will have the capability to operate autonomously or as a major node in a network-centric operation and will provide accurate emitter targeting for employment of onboard suppression weapons such as the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). Prime contractors are Boeing Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, MO for the airframe and General Electric Company, Aircraft Engine Division of Lynn, MA for the engines. Northrop Grumman Corporation, Bethpage, NY is a major subcontractor.

The EA-18 will perform full-spectrum electronic surveillance and electronic attack of enemy threat radars and communications nets. The EA-18 leverages the U.S. Navy's investment in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet platform. A derivative of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet - a platform which is in production today - the EA-18 is a highly flexible design that enables the warfighter to perform a broad range of tactical missions, operating from either the deck of an aircraft carrier or land-based fields. The EA-18 is 99 percent common with the Super Hornet and would be expected to significantly reduce support and training costs for the US Navy.

The EA-18G's electronic attack upgrades will meet EA-6B (ALQ-218, ALQ-99, USQ-113) Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) capability to detect, identify, locate and suppress hostile emitters; provide enhanced connectivity to National, Theater and Strike assets; and provide organic precision emitter targeting for employment of onboard suppression weapons High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) to fulfill operational requirements. The man in the loop operation and advanced information display system will allow real time assessment of the tactical situation and the appropriate response executed in accordance with the rules of engagement. The performance of the aircraft is compatible with the primary strike/fighter aircraft projected to be in the inventory in the 2010 time period, allowing it to be fully integrated into specific strike packages. It will also have the capacity to provide broad area coverage for extended periods of time to support numerous strikes or other air operations in a federated context. The EA-18G is being designed to perform a range of Electronic Warfare/Electronic Attack functions either simultaneously or independently.

The F/A-18G had minor shortcomings relative to the EA-6B ICAP-III baseline of the Advanced Electronic Attack (AEA) Analysis of Alternatives study. By incorporating alterations, such as inclusion of a digital receiver system, complete communications electronic attack system, and routable network information system, this valid core can become a viable force for the future. The mission radius and time on station figures with typical air defense suppression loads are nearly identical. AEA system components designed for the EA -6B ICAP-III were easily adaptable for use in the F/A-18G. An initial study of the electro-magnetic interference susceptibility for the F/A-18G was concluded with favorable results. Although the LR-700 can be adapted for use in this airframe, a digital implementation revolutionizes electronic surveillance with low probability of intercept radar and complex modulation waveform detection, coherent jamming capability, active cancellation look through, and specific emitter identification. An internet protocol routable network approach is introduced as a possible means to seamless connectivity and fully integrated data picture. The multi-role capability of the F/A-18G will provide synergistic strike and survivability advantages as well as training and readiness challenges. A quantification of overall effectiveness demonstrates the F/A-18G is a viable EA -6B follow-on and AEA platform.

The EA-18 was the only alternative to the EA-6B based on a derivative from an in-production, aircraft carrier adept aircraft. It has the basic tactical capabilities of the F/A-18F Super Hornet coupled with the enhanced electronic attack capability of the ICAP III Prowler. The EA-18 will eliminate the type model series airplane off the flight deck. The configuration of the airplane in terms of capability will be equivalent to what is anticipated in the EA-6B with ICAP III installed, and a concentration on the LR-700 receiver, which will allow tracking of threats. Instead of pre-emptive jamming it will provide selective reactive jamming.

The airplane, though dedicated to the electronic attack mission, can be changed from an EA back to an 'F' with relative ease and vice versa. It allows flexibility on the flight deck. You can use up a certain portion of the life of the airplane flying it as an electronic attack airplane, and then shift missions, and use another section as a fighter. There is certainly a big difference in fighting Iraq with a strong integraded jamming system compared to fighting in Afghanistan.

The EA-18 will retain everything in it that the F/A-18F Super Hornet has today with two exceptions. The wing tip stations will have receiving antennas. The gun will be replaced with avionics boxes containing the LR-700 receiver and satellite communications, which interface with the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System pods.

The EA-18 is based on the two-seat F/A-18F with the Block 2 avionics upgrades, including active-array radar and advanced rear crew station, already under development for the Super Hornet. Production cost on a unit flyaway basis will be 15-18% more than a basic F/A-18F in then-year dollars. An EA-18 will cost $7-9 million more, based on the nominal Super Hornet unit price of $50 million by the end of the current multi-year procurement contract. Concurrent production of EA-18s and E/Fs would further reduce the Super Hornet's price. The company estimated that, if 12 EA-18s are built each year alongside 48 E/Fs, the cost of each E/F would be reduced by up to $3 million. The US Navy would see operating and support savings, with the EA-18 expected to cost $7,400/h to operate, compared with over S17,000/h for the EA-6B.

The EA-18G aircraft, chosen to augment electronic attack capabilities across the services and replace the Navy's EA-6B, will be a missionized F/A-18F airframe to provide capabilities to detect, identify, and locate hostile radio frequency emitters in order to direct jamming against radar and communications threats, and to fire suppression weapons such as High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs). The EA-18G incorporates a version of the airborne electronic attack (AEA) suite developed for the Improved Capability (ICAP) III EA-6B upgrade. The Navy plans to include a newly configured Communications Countermeasure Set as a replacement for the USQ-113.

The EA-18 was selected to replace the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft to provide an Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA). The EA-6B will begin retirement in the 2010 timeframe, after a career that exceeded 40 years of deployments in support of USN, USMC, and USAF strike forces. As of early 2000, Defense Department planning for replacing the EA-6B Prowler include a scheme under which the Navy would buy an F/A-18G "Growler" -- an F/A-18E/F modified for escort and close-in jamming. The Air Force would provide standoff jamming with modified EB-52s or EB-1s, and close-in jamming with unmanned air vehicles such as the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk or General Atomics Predator.

The DoD's only air-based EA jamming capability was provided by 123 EA-6B Prowlers. It was projected that these 123 aircraft will no longer adequately support required Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) missions beyond the year 2010 due to attrition and airframe life limits. In order to maintain the tactical advantage over enemy air defenses, the DoD must augment and ultimately replace its aging and diminishing fleet of EA-6B aircraft with an equal or better AEA capability.

The EA-18 is the result of an engineering design, development and test effort that began in late 1993. This effort has included avionics and aircraft conceptual design, engineering analysis, high- and low-speed wind tunnel testing, electromagnetic interference/compatibility laboratory testing, antenna range testing and extensive crew-vehicle interface development.

In November 2001 Boeing successfully completed an initial flight demonstration of its EA-18 Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) concept aircraft. The test used an F/A-18F Super Hornet to carry three ALQ-99 jamming pods and two fuel tanks while measuring noise and vibration data and assessing aircraft flying qualities.

In April 2002 Boeing completed the third successful flight demonstration of its EA-18 Airborne Electronic Attack concept aircraft. The test, conducted April 5, used an F/A-18F Super Hornet to carry three ALQ-99 jamming pods and two fuel tanks while measuring noise and vibration data and assessing aircraft flying qualities. Boeing teammate, Northrop Grumman, instrumented the ALQ-99 jamming pods to gather the noise and vibration information. The combination of a validated design, proven platform and proven electronics positioned the EA-18 program to begin a system development and demonstration phase in 2003.



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