On September 28, 2010, Boeing announced 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.