Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The U.S Navy has ordered a total of 57 airplanes to replace its existing EA-6B Prowlers in service, all of which will be based at NAS Whidbey Island save for Reserve Squadron VAQ-209 based at NAF Washington, MD. The US DoD gave approval for the EA-18G program to begin low-rate initial production in 2007. Full-rate production is to begin in 2008. The EA-18G is scheduled to finish flight testing in 2008, then earn initial operational capability in 2009. The Navy is planning to buy approximately 85 aircraft in order to equip 11 squadrons. The first Growler for fleet use was officially accepted by VAQ-129 "Vikings" at NAS Whidbey Island, on 3 June 2008. The first deployable EA-18G squadron is slated to be VAQ-132 "Scorpions", with its Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status expected in 2009. In 2008 the Australian Government requested export approval from the US government to purchase up to six EA-18Gs, which would be part of the order for 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets. On 27 February 2009, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets on order would be wired on the production line for future fit-out as EA-18Gs. The additional wiring would cost $35 million. The final decision on conversion to EA-18Gs, at a cost of $300 million, would be made in 2012. With the new digital telecommunications used by opponents, U.S. planners have to be much more detailed about how electronic attack is conducted against networked, computer-controlled threats such as integrated air defenses. Part of the new threat involves commercially available communications. GSM, Satphone, Bluetooth, 80211G and 80216 technologies are all built into one handset. It switches the user through all the options to find a usable route when being jammed. That type of connection technology is available and cheap. New special-purpose electronic attack involves attacking more than external emissions. It goes after the digital instructions, called protocols, that run a network. It's electronic warfare against a computer network and not just a radar or radio signal. The goal is controlling communications more than preventing them. Nontraditional electronic attack involves producing long-lasting instead of temporary effects on enemy electronics. Navy officials are a bit more circumspect and focused on incremental, near-term improvements. "A much better jammer than the ALQ-99 [jamming pods that now equip both the Growler and Prowler] is part of the Growler roadmap," says Commander Frank Morley, program manager for the EA-18G. There are areas that could profit significantly from improvements "including the number and size of antennas and the small number of bands that can be attacked." There also are issues with in-flight flexibility. Once the aircraft takes off, there is a limited, fixed configuration for electronic attack. NGJ is expected to offer more flexibility once airborne, and more band coverage that also can be adjusted in flight. ICAP III has already added information on board, networking capability and information from off-board sources to the older Prowler. NGJ is expected to allow even greater in-flight reactive capability. "An EA-6B Prowler [in contrast] doesn't have a radar so it can defend itself only by running away," Morley says. "With the Growler's AESA radar, the crew can see what's going on. They know if there are fighters that have leaked through the front wall of the strike package. Situational awareness and the ability to defend themselves in an offensive manner is a first step that will make a difference. Now you don't have to put it in the back of the strike package with a section of fighters. [The Growler] may be able to hang around longer, planners may not have to put up as many assets to protect it and it may be able to make some of its own tactical decisions."