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EA-6B Prowler

In 1996 the Department of Defense (DOD) decided to eliminate the F-4G and EF-111 suppression aircraft without first fielding comparable replacements. Because no replacements were available, the Navy's EA-6B aircraft became DOD's only standoff radar jammer aircraft, providing suppression support for all services.

By 2000, there was an acknowledged gap between the services' suppression capabilities and their needs. The gap was a consequence of the increasing modernization of enemy air defenses that had outpaced DOD's effort to improve its suppression capabilities. At that time, DOD stated that the analysis of alternatives (AoA) for airborne electronic attack (AEA) would provide a basis for its future strategy and lead to a balanced set of acquisition programs for the services. Urgency to complete such an analysis of alternatives was motivated by a projected shortfall of the EA-6B inventory, primarily caused by attrition, and the increasing cost of operating such aging aircraft.

The AEA study found that the EA-6B aircraft inventory was declining faster than had been projected and concluded that it would be insufficient to meet DOD's needs beyond 2009. The military services embarked on separate acquisition efforts to develop a future AEA system of systems (SoS) for DOD. In 2003 the Navy started development of the EA-18G aircraft to replace the EA-6B as its contribution to the DOD AEA SoS.

As of 2006 EA-6B aircraft will be able to meet the Navy's suppression of enemy air defense needs through at least 2017 and the needs of the Marine Corps through 2025 -- as long as sufficient numbers of the aircraft are outfitted with upgraded electronics suites. The conclusion that the EA-6B inventory would be insufficient past 2009 was not based on the Navy's requirement for 90 aircraft, but on an inventory requirement of 108 aircraft that would meet the needs of all services. The decision to move to a system of systems using multiple aircraft types means the Navy will no longer be required to support all of DOD's electronic attack requirements. However, insufficient quantities of upgraded jamming systems means that the majority of the EA-6B fleet is equipped with the older jamming system that is limited in its ability to conduct numerous critical functions. If the Navy is required to support all services, given the recent Air Force proposal to terminate its EB-52 standoff jammer program, additional EA-6Bs may require the Improved Capability (ICAP) III upgrade.

Operating Units

Facilities

  • NAS Whidbey Island
  • MCAS Cherry Point NC
  • MCAS Iwakuni, Japan

Procurement and replacement of 114 wing center sections for the EA-6B, begun in 1998, have been made on 94 aircraft and were ongoing as of mid-2006. A few aircraft received more than one wing center replacement because of heavy use. As a result, program officials identified the fatigue life of the fuselage as the determining factor in projected inventory levels. The official estimated life analysis of the EA-6B was conducted between 1984 and 1988. The aircraft used in that analysis had 1,873 actual flight hours when the test began, and program management believes that factor was not considered in determining the current fuselage life limit. Program management asked that updated fatigue life charts be developed based on this information. Program management predicted that this will result in an increase in fuselage life to 14,000 hours. In addition, according to program officials extended inventory life can be obtained by procuring 32 additional EA-6B wing center sections at an estimated cost of $170 million. This would result in an inventory of over 90 EA-6Bs through 2019. However, according to program officials, Northrop Grumman Corporation wrapped up wing center section production late summer 2006, and any new wing center section production would have had to have been placed on order in 2006 year to avoid additional startup and production break costs.



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