Boeing pitches EA-18 as Prowler successor

The Boeing EA-18 is sleek, maneuverable and fast, and can handle the Navy’s electronic attack mission, said Boeing’s project manager. - Boeing photo
The Boeing EA-18 is sleek, maneuverable and fast, and can handle the Navy’s electronic attack mission, said Boeing’s project manager.
— image credit: Boeing photo

If one major aircraft manufacturer gets its way, it will be building the next generation of electronic attack planes for the Navy, to replace the aging EA-6B Prowler.

And, the prototype of the aircraft may make an appearance at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Thunder on the Rock air show this coming August, said a spokesman for the manufacturer.

The Pentagon is set to decide in June on what will be the follow-on aircraft for the Prowler, and the Boeing Company thinks it should be the EA-18, a modification of the F-18 Super Hornet strike fighter jet.

Electronic attack mission officials at the Pentagon are declining comment on the aircraft until after the June meetings, said a Department of Defense spokesman on Tuesday.

Boeing has had its eye on the contract to build the replacement to the EA-6B since November1993, when the Navy asked the company to begin a feasibility study, said Paul Summers, Boeing’s project manager for the EA-18, in St. Louis, Mo. Boeing has gone forward with the design and testing, investing its own money in the research and development of the new plane.

The Navy estimates it will need to put a new electronic attack mission plane into service beginning in about 2008 or 2009, with all EA-6Bs replaced by 2015.

“There’s really no question that we can do it,” said Patricia Frost, a public affairs officer for Boeing.

Boeing brought a prototype of the EA-18 to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island last week for the annual Electronic Warfare Symposium, a series of classified meetings that bring top Pentagon electronic attack officials to Whidbey to meet with squadron leaders and flyers. Summers came along with the aircraft.

Pilots and Electronic Counter Measures Officers (ECMOs) stationed here with electronic attack squadrons were impressed with the EA-18, Summers said, and they look forward to the replacement of the EA-6B.

Boeing is pushing hard and making a case to persuade Pentagon decision-makers to choose the EA-18 as the follow-on to the Prowler.

The EA-18 is 99-percent common to the F-18-F Super Hornet, a strike fighter recently put into use by the Navy. The similarities between the two planes would reduce maintenance and support costs for the military, Frost said. Additionally, since the EA-18 comes off the same production line as the Super Hornet, Boeing would be able to proceed smoothly with production of the aircraft, Frost said.

Additionally, the Navy’s use of the EA-18 would complement the mission of the Air Force, Summers said.

The June meetings will consist of a joint recommendation from the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps to top DoD officials on necessary military assets that will complement one another, but not duplicate, Summers said.

Boeing officials are hoping that the recommendation from the Navy and the Air Force will be that the Navy should use the EA-18 as a “stand-off jammer,” while the Air Force uses an unmanned asset to “go in deep” behind unfriendly lines.

While the Boeing EA-18 would reduce the number of crewmembers from the current four in the EA-6B Prowler to two, Summers said the electronic attack mission would be expected to proceed adequately. The mission has already been tested by ECMOs 400 times over the last five or six years in an EA-18 “full-fidelity manned simulator” in St. Louis, Summers said.

“I think we’ve proven to the Navy that this is certainly achievable with low risk,” Summers said.

Summers described the EA-18 as louder, faster and more maneuverable than the EA-6B. It can also carry a larger load.

Visitors to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station air show on Aug. 17 and 18 might get a peek at the EA-18.

“We’re checking on the aircraft’s availability,” Summers said.

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