The Prowler fleet is being modernized and upgraded to keep the aircraft and its systems abreast of evolving threats and to maintain aircraft safety. EA-6B improvements have been many and varied to meet the current and projected threat. The older Prowler air frames (modified A-6 Intruder bodies) will get new wing center sections. Before 2005, each of the Navy's 123 Prowlers will be retrofitted with new communication and navigation equipment. Before 2010 Prowlers will be retrofitted with new jamming equipment. Other additions include incorporation of the "high-speed anti-radiation missile" (HARM) and improved communications jamming capability. This aircraft is projected to be operational through the year 2015.
The purpose of the EA-6B Improved Capability Modification II (ICAP II) Program is to upgrade selected avionics employed aboard Navy and Marine Corps EA-6B Aircraft. The ICAP II Block upgrades provides new safety, structural and avionics modifications for the aircraft. Navy Reserve EA-6A squadron VAQ-209 transitioned to the EA-6B ICAP II Aircraft in FY89. The Marine Corps Reserve EA-6A squadron, VMAQ-4, transitioned to EA-6B ICAP II Aircraft in March 1991 and to active duty 1 October 1992. VMAQ-2 has been split into three squadrons; VMAQ-1, VMAQ-2 and VMAQ-3. The EA-6B Prowler is undergoing a variety of enhancements to improve the overall capabilities of the weapon system. The four phases of this process are the ICAP II improvements, the ICAP II Block 86 enhancements, the ICAP II Block 89 upgrades, and the ICAP II Block 89A upgrades. The EA-6B ICAP II Block 89 program include two configurations of ICAP II EA-6B Aircraft, the Block 82 and Block 86.
The EA-6B ICAP II Program retrofitted 51 early models of the EA-6B ICAP I enhancement program aircraft. The Technical Evaluation (TECHEVAL) of the EA-6B ICAP II was conducted at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) formerly Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, from January to March 1982. The Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) was conducted from May to August 1982 at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division formerly the Naval Weapons Station, China Lake. No additional manpower or training was required for either the TECHEVAL or the OPEVAL. Production aircraft were delivered with the ICAP II configuration beginning with BUNO 161776. All ICAP II introductions for VAQ-129, Navy fleet squadrons, and Marine Corps Fleet Marine Force (FMF) squadrons were completed in FY91.
The ICAP II Block 82 Program was designed to upgrade the Navy and Marine Corps EA-6B weapon system and was accomplished by modifying earlier models. All Navy EA-6B aircraft have been converted to Block 89. The Marine Corps reported 59 Block 82 EA-6B aircraft still in inventory as of August 1999. As of March 2001 thirteen of these were being upgraded to Block 89A configuration. The following are system improvements in the Block 82 ICAP II program.
- The AN/ASN-130 Carrier Aircraft Inertial Navigation System replaced the AN/APN-153 Doppler Radar Set.
- The AN/AYK-14(V) Digital Data Computer replaced the AN/AYK-6B Computer Group.
- The AN/ASN-123 Tactical Navigation Display (TND) replaced the OD-117/A Digital Display Group.
- The AN/ALQ-99F(V) Tactical Jamming System (TJS) replaced the AN/ALQ-99D(V) TJS.
- An interim HARM capability was introduced.
- The digitally controlled Universal Exciter replaced the earlier analog Jammer exciter.
The ICAP II Block 86 Program program modified 51 Navy ICAP II Aircraft. Block-89A configuration is a pre-requisite for the Improved Capability-III (ICAP-III) upgrade. All Block 86 aircraft have recently been modified with Block 89 safety improvements to produce a Block 86/89 variant. Production incorporation of Block 86 modifications of 51 EA-6B ICAP II Aircraft began with BUNO 163049. All Block 86 transitions for VAQ-129 and Navy fleet squadrons were completed in FY90. The Developmental Test for the EA-6B ICAP II Block 86 was completed in December 1988 and the Operational Test was conducted from April through June 1989 at NAWCAD, Patuxent River. No training was required. Incorporation of Block 86 changes during remanufacture began with Bureau Number (BUNO) 163049 and has been completed. The following are Block 86 enhancements:
- Two AN/ARC-182(V) Ultra High Frequency (UHF)/Very High Frequency (VHF) Radio Sets replaced the AN/ARC-159(V) UHF Radio Set and the AN/VHF-20B VHF Radio Set.
- The AN/ARC-199 High Frequency (HF) Radio Set, in conjunction with the TSEC/KY-75 processor and remote control unit, replaced the AN/ARC-105 HF Communication Set.
- The Computer Interface Unit/Encoder (CIU/E) combined the converter synchronizer and signal comparator into one unit.
- A digital fuel quantity system with a microprocessor-controlled direct current capacitance system replaced the alternating current fuel quantity gauging system. The digital system uses a Liquid Crystal Display for flight station presentation.
- Production HARM improvements replaced the interim capability. Existing AN/ALE-41 wiring was used and a new HARM control panel was added.
- The AN/ASH-30 Digital Recorder was removed. The AN/UYH-4 Recorder Reproducer Set that is currently installed received software changes to enable it to provide recording capabilities.
The ICAP II Block 89 Program modifies Navy ICAP II Aircraft. Block 89 improvements are being retrofitted into 55 aircraft. Block 89 aircraft have replaced the EA-6A Aircraft in the Naval Reserve. Due to the nature of the modifications in the ICAP II Block 89 Aircraft, developmental and operational tests was not necessary. The Block 89 improvements are safety related items. The following are Block 89 improvements:
- Fire safety improvements include additional fire detection systems, additional Halon fire extinguishing systems, material changes for the chimney covers and braided bellows assemblies, improved Liquid Oxygen bottle installation, modifications to elevator control rods, and incorporation of a test panel for remote testing of fire detection and extinguishing systems.
- Two caution lights are added to warn the pilot of failure of flight or combined hydraulic systems, and non-agreement of the emergency flap switch and the hydraulic flap handle position.
- A Yaw Rate Indicating system is added to give the capability of displaying yaw rates, up to +/- 100 degrees per second, to aid in spin recovery.
- Fuel shut-off valve discharge tubes are added to preclude foaming caused by high fueling pressure.
- Boarding platform support fittings are replaced with a single, redesigned fitting to improve the stability of the boarding platform.
- The filter system circuit breaker has been increased in size and larger size wire has been installed to accommodate the additional electrical power requirements for the AN/ARC-182 frequency agile filters.
- The aft fuel cell pilot valve circuitry is revised to enable fuel transfer from the wing and drop tanks to the main tank as an additional fuel transfer route.
- Improved engine tailpipes are installed, as required.
The ICAP II Block 89A upgrade program addresses structural and supportability problems associated with aging aircraft and includes numerous avionics improvements for safety of flight and joint interoperability. The Block 89A upgrade program brings 120 EA-6B Aircraft into a single avionics configuration, which forms the baseline from which all future improvements to the EA-6B will be based. The Block 89A ECP was installed in two phases; the Accelerated Block 89A which began in FY-96 and the Block 89A which commenced in FY98.
The ICAP II Block 89A Accelerated Phase Program modifies existing Navy ICAP II Aircraft. The ICAP II Block 89A Accelerated Phase Program could be referred to as the Accelerated Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) program. It upgrades the attitude and position referencing systems to proven digital technology on all Block 82 and Block 89 EA-6B Aircraft. All Block 82 and Block 89 have EFIS or are currently having EFIS installed. Incorporation of these changes established the baseline for upgrading to Block 89A. Block 89A upgrades were incorporated into 100 Navy and Marine Corps EA-6B Aircraft begining fourth quarter FY96. The Accelerated Block 89A improvements were incorporated into all EA-6B ICAP II Aircraft by field modification teams at NAS Whidbey Island and MCAS Cherry Point. During Block 89A modifications, all Block 82 aircraft were first brought into block 86/89 configuration and then be fitted with Block 89A enhancements. Following completion of Accelerated Block 89A modifications, all Block 86/89 aircraft were then upgraded to the block 89A configuration. EA-6B ICAP II Block 89A Accelerated Phase Follow-on Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) was conducted by NAWCAD, Patuxent River, and began in the fourth quarter of FY95. FOT&E training also began in the fourth quarter of FY95 at NAWCAD, Patuxent River. Naval Aviation Engineering Service Unit (NAESU) conducted FOT&E training. The following are Block 89A Accelerated Phase improvements:
- The Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) replaces the Electro-mechanical Attitude Direction Indicator (ADI) and the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI).
- The Digital Signal Data Converter (DSDC) replaces the Course Attitude Data Transmitter (CADT).
- The AN/KNR-634A VHF Instrument Landing System (ILS) is installed to provide enhanced landing capabilities at commercial and United States Air Force (USAF) airfields and is integrated with EFIS.
- The Global Positioning System (GPS) Miniature Airborne GPS Receiver (MAGR) enhances navigation capabilities.
The ICAP II Block 89A Program upgrade promises to be a substantial improvement over previous Block aircraft. The EA-6B Block 89A achieved IOC in 2000. As of March 2001 there were four Block 89A aircraft in the fleet and 27 are in the process of being modified. The schedule for FY00 identified a total of 25 Block 89A aircraft, excluding the two Block 89A aircraft scheduled for ICAP III conversion.
- The Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Unit (EGI) replaces the current AN/ASN-50 Compass System.
- The upgraded AN/AYK-14 Central Mission Computer is further upgraded from the current Single Card Processor module to a Very High Speed Integrated Circuit Processor Module.
- The AN/ARC-210 UHF/VHF Radio Set replaces the AN/ARC-182 UHF/VHF Radio Set.
- The Control Display Navigation Unit (CDNU) replaces the MAGR and the Control Display Indicator (CDI).
The ICAP II Block 89A communication system is designed around two ARC-210's in the front and one ARC-182 in the back. In addition to being capable of the same communication frequency ranges as the ARC-182, the ARC-210's also have integrated HAVEQUICK and SINCGARS functions. Another nice feature about the ARC-210's is that they are integrated with the control display navigation unit (CDNU) to control the radios (all three of them) from a "Radio" page on the CDNU. Navigation system upgrades are also very substantial. The primary navigation sensor is the Litton CN-1649(V)4/ASN-172 Embedded GPS/INS (EGI). This unit combines the Litton LN-100G strapdown inertial unit with a GPS receiver. The result is that the system, or the aircrew, can select from four possible navigation solutions from this one unit -- a pure inertial, GPS, filtered inertial, or filtered inertial solution with GPS aiding. Most of the testing used the filtered inertial solution with GPS aiding, called Blended/Coupled, because it was typically the most accurate. This mode allowed the Prowler to navigate with an accuracy of about 16 m (52 ft), a big improvement. The ASN-130 is still in the aircraft as the secondary attitude and navigation source with all the capability it has always had. The 89A also features an improved databus structure that allows the CDNU to integrate many things like the radios, RADAR cursor, both navigation sensors, route control, HARM control, WRA BIT, and current navigation and attitude information.
Software improvements to the AGM-88 High-Speed Antiradiation Missile (HARM) have created the Block IIIA and V missile from the Block III and IV hardware. To ensure continued EA-6B compatibility, OFP's SSA 5.2 and 89A 1.0 have been developed by the Weapons System Support Activity, Point Mugu, California. Both are baselined from 5.1 COD, will include HARM III/IIIA/IV/V, and are supported by the same TEAMS release. Two successful live fires of IIIA and V missiles from Block 89A aircraft were made in September 1998 and were followed this winter by Block 82/89 live fires. The differences in the OFP software was nearly transparent to the fleet when Block 89A's began arriving. The 89A 1.0 OFP has been optimized for the Block 89A avionics architecture that includes a second 1553 navigation bus and CDNU bus control.
Three new avionics changes dramatically improve the warfighting capabilities of the EA-6B. The AN/ALQ-99 TJS is being expanded to provide jamming capability in J-Band, with a new Band 9/10 transmitter, which will be operational in the fleet approximately the same time as Block 89A. Improvements to the AN/ALQ-99 jamming pod capability include the Universal Exciter Upgrade (UEU), which replaces the Universal Exciter that digitally control the jamming transmitters in the EA-6B wing station pods. This provide increased reliability and maintainability, as well as, increasing exciter capability to include the Band 9/10 transmitter. Other changes include a prototype Band 7/8 jamming capability derived from the in-production Band 9/10 transmitter, along with the EMD development phase Low Band Transmitter (LBT) upgrades. The Navy re-baselined the LBT upgrade to the AN/ALQ-99 jammer in September 2000, slipping the program IOC from 3QFY04-2QFY05. The resultant TEMP revision is in progress. During the program restructure, the PEO directed anechoic chamber tests of the transmitter/antennas. These tests took place in August 2000 with favorable results: no catastrophic failures and an assessment by the program office that the problems encountered can be resolved within program cost and schedule constraints. EMD and DT&E activities continue to progress.
Addition of the Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal and the Improved Data Modem capability improves battlefield situational awareness for the crew. The Multimission Advanced Tactical Terminal (MATT) and Improved Data Modem (IDM), a program originally called the Connectivity Modification, is a miniaturized, airborne UHF receiver providing detection, decryption, and correlation of contact information obtained through the TRAP, TADIXS-B, and TIBS broadcasts. The contact data arrives in near-real-time from national asset sensors and can give an over-the-horizon look at both friendly and hostile platforms and emitters. The MATT is a single WRA installed above the port wing shoulder, with associated satellite receive antenna and filter, replacing the ADF antenna on the "turtleback." The IDM is a device that formats digital data for transmission using the existing ARC-159, radio No. 3. In a perfect world, incoming MATT data can be examined, selected, and digitally transmitted using the IDM to F-16's as HARM target packages. Information can also be exchanged with other IDM-equipped EA-6B's or Rivet Joint aircraft. The flip side of the new capabilities is that both the MATT and IDM are controlled using a commercially ruggedized laptop computer in a Windows 95 environment, connected by a cable to the center console in the rear cockpit. This less-than-optimum solution of system engineering will be solved when both MATT and IDM systems are integrated into the aircraft displays on the future ICAP III model of the EA-6B.
The USQ-113(V)3 Phase III Radio Countermeasures Set was designed to detect, analyze, monitor, and/or jam voice and data link signals. The AN/USQ-113 Communications Jammer, manufactured by Rockwell-Collins, replaces the AN/ALQ-92 system, which has become logistically unsupportable and operationally obsolete. The USQ-113 (Version 3) Connectivity Upgrade (awaiting OT&E) improves the capability to jam enemy communications. Block 89 has undergone extensive ground testing for the USQ-113, following resumption of testing in September 1998. Ground testing was stopped due to software immaturity and BIT reliability problems. Anechoic chamber testing included finishing electromagnetic compatibility, TEMPEST, precipitation-static, and system performance. Electromagnetic vulnerability testing took place in mid February 1999, and flight testing began at the end of the month. The USQ-113 is controlled primarily by the same ruggedized laptop computer that is used for the MATT/IDM systems, or by an improved operator control panel in the front cockpit. DT was completed in April 2000. However, as a result of an Operational Test Readiness Review (OTRR) in May of 2000, OPEVAL is was held until the program office addressed certain safety of flight issues involving the use of a laptop computer in the rear cockpit as an interface to the communications receiver/jammer capabilities. In October 2000, a second OTRR resulted in a successful certification for OPEVAL to begin. USQ-113 was already declared EOC in May 1999 and deployed to two fleet EA-6B squadrons in support of air operations over Serbia.
Night Vision Devices (NVD) integration DT was conducted in August and a Quick Reaction Assessment (QRA) was conducted in September 2000. No major deficiencies were noted prior to the QRA other than insufficient NATOPS documentation. The QRA found the upgrade effective, and recommended that operational testing be done to substantiate the opinions in the QRA. The Prowler should be able to see into the night. Both cockpits and the external lights of the Prowler will be modified to provide this additional capability to improve situational awareness. NAWCAD has modified a Block 89 aircraft with a floodlight based NVD internal lighting system along with an NVD friendly external lighting kit. This overall kit places filters over all of the existing electronic displays (EFIS, IOCP, DDI's, and DVRI's) as well as converting all of the other misc. lights (e.g. Master Caution, all caution advisory lights, fire lights, etc.) to radiate in a spectrum that is friendly to NVG's. The external lighting modification operates in two distinctive modes, in the normal visible spectrum and in the IR spectrum. In addition, the external lights have been modified to allow for the pilot to select distinctive flash patterns for identification purposes. Initial testing indicated that the floodlight based approach will not provide adequate lighting for the primary flight instruments. Therefore testing stopped pending a redesign.
The EA-6B Exterior Night Vision "Friendly" Lighting System is to have solid state LED lighting components, and is to be a dual-mode visible and infrared (covert) lighting system. The exterior lighting assemblies are to be form and fit replacement for exterior lighting components currently used on the EA-6B aircraft, however the system shall have solid state LED arrays for all exterior lighting components. The new system shall be a dual-mode visible and Infrared (IR) lighting system. One mode, Visible lighting, is referred to as NVIS "Friendly" lighting. This NVIS Friendly lighting is to provide performance equal to existing lighting system (in the photopic region of the spectrum), with a reduced IR content emission so that it can be used while flying in formation with other aircraft in which NVIS devices are used. The second mode, IR lighting (Covert lighting) is to viewable only by NVIS devices, and has significantly reduced visible content (in the photopic region of the spectrum).
The EA-6B lighting system upgrade is to replace existing Upper and Lower (red) Anti-Collision Light Assemblies, Pylon (red and green) Light Assemblies, Wing Tip Position (red and green) Light Assemblies, and Tail Light (white) Assembly, and to include a new Exterior Lighting Control Panel (NVIS Class 1- NVIS Green A per SAE-AS-7788). No allowance is made for alteration of existing aircraft wiring except for an interface cable from the new Exterior Lighting Control Panel to the existing lighting control system. Replacement lights (except Lower Anti-Collision Lights), are to be dual mode (visible and IR) capable and dimmable in each mode. Visible lighting components are to meet existing platform lighting performance requirements and Infrared (Covert) requirements will be documented in the solicitation specification. System is to be form and fit for items replaced for visible lighting. IR lighting capabilities are to allow controllable variable flashing pattern for IFF identification of aircraft.
The EA-6B ADVCAP (Advanced Capability) modifications defined by the joint EA-6B program were directed at an advanced version of the aircraft which included a myriad of improvements such as an upgraded onboard receiver suite, a new jammer, a new engine, as well as airframe modifications. ADVCAP was in FSD in FY93, and IOT&E (OT IIA) of the warfighting improvements was completed in 1QFY94. Fiscal constraints and other programmatic issues restrained the Navy from funding the upgrade program, which was terminated in 1994. In the post Desert Storm re-ordering of defense priorities and missions, influenced in part by the success of the EA-6B during Desert Storm, the ADVCAP program was excluded from the FY95 Navy budget submission and was subsequently canceled. ADVCAP warfighting improvements included a new receiver processor system, the AN/ALQ-149 Communications Jammer, a new band 2/3 transmitter, and an upgrade to the universal exciter. Also included was a major aircraft avionics upgrade and airframe and engine improvements. The continuing evolution of the EA-6B and the demands of the all-weather warfare mission involved a continuous upgrade of advanced electronic systems that demand adequate cooling for satisfactory operations. The projected Advanced Capability version of the aircraft, which was not funded for continued development, included a significant electronics upgrade that required additional cooling. Flight tests of a modified EA-6B designated the Vehicle Enhancement Program (VEP) test aircraft were conducted to evaluate the effects of the airframe modifications derived from the Langley-led joint studies. Flights began on June 15, 1992, and the final flight occurred on 04 April 1994. The flight evaluation of the test aircraft validated all projections of the research program, and the performance, stability, and control characteristics of the modified aircraft were judged to be far superior to those of the basic EA-6B. The aircraft performed flawlessly.
The Improved Capabilities (ICAP) III upgrade develops and procures a new tactical receiver that provides a reactive jamming capability and replaces the current 1960s era receivers. Additionally, ICAP III systems integrates many of the above mentioned warfighting enhancements with the addition of new controls and displays, allowing improved crew operation. ICAP-III includes provisions for Link-16, via the Multi-Functional Information Distribution System. ICAP-III builds upon the Block-89A improvements to achieve integrated receiver connectivity and reactive jamming/targeting capability through accurate geolocation of active emitters. The procurement plan is to transition all EA-6B aircraft to the ICAP-III configuration by 2010.
The following are the ICAP III improvements.
- Tactical Jamming System Upgrade. The LR-700 Receiver subsystem will replace the ALQ-99 Receiver System, CIU/E, and Junction Box A. A new Central Mission Computer will also be added.
- Tactical Display Subsystem. The new Tactical Display Subsystem (TDS) (utilizing liquid crystal displays, color icons, and pull-down menus) will be installed in all positions. Combined with a TDS Interface Unit, the TDS will replace both the pilot and ECMO monochromatic displays and the AN/ASN-123 TND.
- Mission Reprogramming Unit. The Mission Reprogramming Unit utilizes solid state technology and is easily reprogrammed. It will replace the tape-based Recorder Reproducer Set.
- Integration of the AN/USQ-113, the Multi-mission Advanced Tactical Terminal (MATT), and Integrated Data Modem (IDM) systems allows for information from these systems to become available for interpretation at all positions. This allows for much more efficient synthesis of collected data with onboard assets.
In March 1998 Northrop Grumman, Bethpage, NY, was awarded a $144,200,131 cost-plus-incentive-fee/award-fee contract for the engineering and manufacturing development of the EA-6B Improved Capabilities III (ICAP III) Warfighter Upgrade System. Work will be performed in College Park, Md. (29%), Bethpage, N.Y. (28%), St. Augustine, Fla. (18%), Hollywood, Md. (13.5%), and Nashua, N.H. (11.5%), and is expected to be completed by January 2004. In September 2000 Lockheed Martin Information Systems, Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $27,969,890 fixed-price-incentive delivery order for the procurement of the EA-6B Improved Capabilities Program (ICAP III) that consists of two weapon systems trainers; two operational flight/navigation trainers; one team tactics trainer; and one maintenance training unit. Work will be performed in Orlando, Fla., and is expected to be completed by February 2004.
The Navy re-baselined the ICAP-III upgrade in May 2000 as a result of cost growth due to underestimating the complexity of the LR-700 receiver design, software, and development requirements. IOC slipped from 3QFY04 to 2QFY05. A TEMP revision resulted. A significant feature of the restructure was that the new acquisition strategy eliminated an LRIP decision, and the concomitant operational test, originally planned in FY02. The key feature of ICAP-III, the LR-700 receiver, was prepared for integration into test aircraft and the beginning of DT in FY01. The ICAP III systems are currently under test and evaluation. The test and evaluation phase is scheduled for completion by FY02 with fleet introduction of ICAP III scheduled for FY04.
In early 2003 The Navy completed a month-long operational assessment of the EA-6B's improved capability (ICAP-3) hardware and software, which also serves as the building block for the future EA-18G. The original test plan allowed for the two EA-6Bs modified with ICAP-3 hardware to run into development problems that would have to be fixed, but that never happened. The jammer was tested at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, Calif., and flown on ranges at Nellis AFB, Nev. The aircraft flew a total of 29 flights and 56.1 hr., leading to the technical evaluation phase slated to begin in the coming days. The operational evaluation period is expected to begin late in 2003.
With a production go-ahead, the Navy is expected to buy 10-12 ICAP-3 upgrades each year for the next three years, before full-rate production of the system would start. The first ICAP-3-equipped EA-6Bs are slated to be operationally available in March 2005 with a yet-to-be-identified four-aircraft Navy squadron. Still uncertain is how many ICAP-3 aircraft the Navy will buy, since the service is starting development of the EA-18G which could curtail acquisition of improved EA-6Bs.
The core of the ICAP-3 program is a new digital receiver system, designated ALQ-218, that should identify an emitter and develop an appropriate jamming solution much more quickly than current technology. The equipment is designed to allow Prowlers to jam at high power at specific frequencies in response to a threat, rather than having to preemptively jam across a broad spectrum, thereby reducing the amount of energy the radar is exposed to. Moreover, ICAP-3 will integrate USQ-113 communications jammers into the entire suite, enhance communications links and provide color displays for all four crewmembers.
Later improvements to the Prowler's AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming system, including the Improved Capabilities (ICAP) III upgrade, new high and low frequency transmitters, and continuing structural enhancements, will ensure that the EA-6B remains the world's premier tactical electronic warfare platform and a force multiplier for years to come.
Although the ICAP III-equipped EA-6Bs have been found to be significantly more capable, the numbers of aircraft that are funded to receive the ICAP III upgrade has been reduced compared with earlier DOD intentions to fully upgrade all EA-6Bs. As of 2006 a total of 14 EA-6B aircraft had been funded to receive the ICAP III upgrade, because of funding reductions, development test results, and the decision in 2003 to replace the EA-6B with the EA-18G.
According to Navy and Marine Corps requirements officials, fitting only 14 EA-6Bs with ICAP III is not sufficient to allow for the transition to the EA-18G without leaving them with an airborne electronic attack capability shortfall against some current and future threats. They believe that between 21 (to meet the Navy requirement) and 31 (to meet the Marine Corps requirement) EA-6Bs should be fitted with ICAP III to address this shortfall. However, an analysis provided by the EA-6B program office concluded that 44 ICAP III aircraft would be needed to meet both Navy and Marine Corps requirements.
|Block 89||Block 89Accel||Block 89A|
On December 17, 2003 the Naval Air Systems Command announced the restarting of the Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems EA-6B outer wing panel production line in St Augustine, Fla. The production line, which was formerly in Bethpage, N.Y. and had closed in 1987, is expected to produce 54 shipsets. Delivery of the first shipset is scheduled for July 2005. Once completed, the outer wing panels will be installed on Prowlers at fleet sites or at Navy depots.
NAVAIR EA-6B Program had reevaluated the wing fatigue life algorithm with updated information based on tear-downs of worn out wings. The results of this indicated that the Navy was actually wearing out wings at a much higher rate than previously estimated. This in turn forced the Navy to remove from service a large number of aircraft ahead of schedule to await wing replacement.
In addition to the outer wing panels, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is currently producing wing center sections for EA-6B aircraft to meet fleet needs. The 64th wing center section will be delivered December 2003, six months ahead of contract schedule and the St. Augustine production line is ramping up to two wing center sections per month starting January 2004.
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.
The EA-6B aircraft is projected to be operational through the year 2015. The EA-6B will begin retirement in the 2010 timeframe, after a career exceeding 40 years of deployments in support of USN, USMC, and USAF strike forces. In December 1999 the Navy began a study to evaluate follow-on designs to replace the EA-6B Prowler by 2010. 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.
An Electronic Warfare plan focused on restarting the EA-6 line and building brand-new EA-6C aircraft with new-technology pods would cost about $34 billion. As part of the 2001 Advanced Electronic Attack (AEA) Analysis of Alternatives(AOA), Northrop Grumman was asked for information on the condition of EA-6B tooling, with a view to restarting production after more than 10 years. The proposed EA-6C would incorporate replacements for the aircraft's twin Pratt & Whitney J52 turbo-fans and modernised avionics including a fly-by-wire flight control system. The US Navy prefered the proposed EA-18, given that many Prowler legacy systems are no longer available and the EA-6C would entail a major redesign. Northrop Grumman was reluctant to champion a new EA-6C at the expense of the EA-18, given that the company was teamed with Boeing as Growler prime system integrator.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|