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EA-18G System Design and Development (SDD)

The EA-18G contract team received its first Pre-SD&D contract in September 2002 to support preparation efforts for the SD&D phase. A contract award for SD&D is now expected shortly. The 5-year SD&D program is expected to run from FY04 until mid FY09 and encompasses all laboratory, ground test, and flight tests from component level testing through full-up EA-18G weapons system performance flight-testing.

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) received Milestone B approval to proceed into System Development and Demonstration (SD&D) of the EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) Aircraft , December 18, 2003. Approval was granted by Mr. Michael Wynne, the Acting Under Secretary of Defense, (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics).

On 29 December 2003 the US Navy awarded Boeing a $1 billion contract for system design and development (SDD) of the EA-18G airborne electronic attack aircraft. The 5-year SDD program for the EA-18G runs from FY04 until early FY09 and encompasses all laboratory, ground test, and flight tests from component level testing through full-up EA-18G weapons system performance flight-testing.

Built on the same assembly line as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the EA-18G retains a high degree of commonality with the Super Hornet. Boeing will begin assembly of the second test program aircraft, EA-2, in the third quarter of 2005. Initial Operational Capability for the EA-18G is scheduled for 2009. A total of 56 EA-18Gs are included in a multi-year contract that was signed with the Boeing Corporation in December 2003. The multi-year procurement covers years from 2005-2009.

The EA-18G will provide the warfighter with abundant operational flexibility. It can carry up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods and will typically add two AIM-120 self-defense missiles and two AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missiles. While developing the EA-18G concept and configuration, the Boeing design team maintained as much of the inherent growth capacity in the F/A-18F as possible. The result will be a platform designed to take advantage of the latest airborne electronic attack and networking technologies, enabling significant improvements in threat suppression.

Upon initial fleet introduction the EA-18G will be capable of self-protection, freeing up dedicated escort aircraft for strike and other missions. It will be capable of rapidly locating and destroying surface-to-air missiles.

In addition to standoff and escort jamming missions, speed, maneuverability and advanced systems will enable the EA-18G to perform time critical strike mission targeting support. By combining two proven systems, the Boeing F/A-18F and the Northrop Grumman ALQ-218(V)2 receiver, the U.S. Navy will maximize the benefit of ongoing investments, while allowing for an initial operational capability by 2009.

At a ceremony 22 October 2004 in the Boeing Company's St. Louis, Mo., facility, Navy and industry leadership commemorated the start up of the production line for the forward fuselage for EA-1, the first EA-18G test aircraft being built under a system development and demonstration (SDD) contract. Attendees watched as the first aluminum bulkhead was hoisted up and installed into the forward fuselage of EA-1. The radar ring bulkhead is a critical component of the forward fuselage, providing support for the Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and the nose cone of the aircraft. This is the first of many parts in the build cycle of the test aircraft, scheduled to fly in September 2006.

The FY 2005 Budget request reflected $359 million for SDD leading to Critical Design Review currently planned for April 2005. During FY 2004, EA-18G efforts focused on risk reduction and development activities concerning the integration of EA-6B Improved Capabilities (ICAP III) electronic attack technologies into the F/A-18E/F air vehicle. The EA-18G was approved to enter SDD on December 18, 2003, as an ACAT ID program. A total quantity of 30 systems will be procured in LRIP with a planned FY 2009 IOC and FY 2012 FOC. The EA-18G will replace carrier- based Navy EA-6B aircraft by 2012.

The Navy's next generation airborne electronic attack aircraft, designated the EA-18G, officially received the popular name "Growler" in late 2005. The Navy sent a request to the Air Force to officially confirm the name in October, 2003. Air Force Headquarters Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, sent a memorandum confirming the name 12 October 2005. The EA-18G had been informally referred to as the Growler for some time. An aircraft or vessel's popular name aids in communication and media references, according to joint service instructions. The official confirmation of a common name for an aircraft follows a process governed by the Defense Department and managed by Air Force Headquarters. Following a request from the F/A-18 and EA-18G program office (PMA-265) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., fleet officers selected possible names. In this case the EA-6B Commodore queried squadron officers who chose Growler as their first choice out of a list of over thirty candidates. The name seems to be a composite of the Growler's electronic attack predecessor, the EA-6B popularly known as the Prowler, and the "G" designation in EA-18G.

The EA-18G is the fifth time the Growler name has been put into service for the Navy. Two wooden sloops serving during the War of 1812 were named Growler. One served on Lake Champlain and the other on Lake Ontario. The first submarine called Growler, SS-215, was commissioned March 20, 1942 and served in the Pacific Ocean until its sinking during a battle with the Japanese Nov. 8, 1944. The Growler submarine earned eight battle stars during its service. A fourth Growler, the submarine SSG-577, was commissioned August 30, 1958, designed to carry Regulus nuclear missiles. She was stationed at Pearl Harbor performing nuclear deterrent patrols in the Pacific. She was decommissioned May 25, 1964 in favor of larger, modernized Polaris submarines. She is on permanent display at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space-Museum in New York City.

The EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft flew the first time on 15 August 2006, approximately one month ahead of schedule. The first EA-18G, known as aircraft EA-1, successfully completed its maiden flight from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. Boeing F/A-18 chief test pilot Ricardo Traven and chief weapons system operator Rick Junkin conducted the first flight of the U.S. Navy's newest AEA aircraft. EA-1 is the first of two test aircraft built under a System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract.

When the EA-18G entered system development in December 2003 it did so without any of its critical technologies being mature. As of March 2007 a Government Accountability Office report noted that while the design seemed stable, and therefore low risk for cost increase, there was the potential for change because three of the five critical technologies were not fully mature by the time of the report. The development schedule was based on the declining EA-6B inventory, but an April 2006 GAO report suggested that the aircraft would meet the needs of the US Navy until 2017. In the 2007 GAO report the number of planned aircraft had been scaled back to 80 from 84 proposed in the FY08 budget. This is in addition to the reduction from 90 aircraft originally planned. The initial low-rate production is planned to be one-third of the total production numbers, far greater than the usual ten percent.

The GAO report noted that while initial low-rate production looked like it would occur on schedule, by April 2007, any deficiencies discovered would require additional costs for redesign and retrofit to aircraft already produced. The GAO report declared the program a low-medium risk in 2007 in light of the maturity of the two critical technologies and that the F/A-18F aircraft (on which the EA-18G is based) and the ICAP III electronics suite are fully mature. Remaining challanges included the proposed movement of the ALQ-218 reciever system from a single location in the tail of the EA-6B to the wingtips of the EA-18G, and whether this new enviornment would have detrimental effects on the equipment.

In April 2007, the Navy approved the program's low-rate initial production decision and by September 2007, the first production configuration EA-18G aircraft was delivered. The Navy had a total of 8 low-rate initial production aircraft on contract, plus the conference report accompanying the 2007 Supplemental Appropriation indicates the conferee's intent to fund 1 additional aircraft. Congress had not yet authorized or appropriated funds for an additional 18 aircraft planned for procurement in the second low-rate initial production lot.

The Navy was planning to buy about one-third of the total production quantity, 26 of 80 aircraft, during low-rate initial production prior to the completion of development and operational tests.

According to the program office, all five of the EA-18G's critical technologies were mature as of March 2008. While the 2.0 software build, needed to demonstrate full functionality for three of the technologies, the AN/ALQ-218 Receiver System, the Communications Countermeasures Set, and the Multimission Advanced Tactical Terminal system, had been delivered, tests to demonstrate full functionality in a multithreat environment would not start until late summer 2008. However, the program expected that ongoing development and operational tests would demonstrate full functionally of these technologies before that time.

Exploration of the effects of noise and vibration on the aircraft was being done in two phases. Phase I, which investigated noise and vibration with no external stores except for the AN/ALQ-218 receiver pod, had been completed on two aircraft. Phase II was conducted with external stores, specifically the AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods on the aircraft. This test started in the fall of 2007 and was approximately 25 percent complete by January 2008.

Development tests of the EA-18G revealed 28 deficiencies, six of which needed to be corrected before beginning operational testing. Operational testing was expected to begin in September 2008 and would not be completed until December 2008. According to the program office, it had fully addressed two of the six problems, a failure to detect a threat without operator indicator and the assignment of jammers to incorrect emitters, and was working to correct the remaining deficiencies. These additional deficiencies include airborne electronic attack system lockups, the lack of adequate threat warning information about pop-up weapon system emitters, and addressing the excessively time-consuming and cumbersome process to build the mission planning system and database.

In addition, the DoD Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, identified operator workload of the two-man EA-18G crew in electronic attack and electronic support missions, currently performed by the four-man EA-6B crew, as a program risk.

In response to the 2008 GAO assessment the Navy stated that the program continued to progress on schedule and within cost while meeting or exceeding all performance requirements. According to the Navy, there were currently no high-level risks associated with program completion, and identified deficiencies were being addressed to stay on schedule for the September 2008 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.




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