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Prowler replacement decision gets complicated

Picking a replacement for the Prowler may not be as easy as Boeing had hoped, and a move made last week will delay a decision on what will eventually take the place of NAS Whidbey’s main aircraft.

The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics decided to allow three different branches of the military to brief Congress on their individual platforms to replace the Navy’s aging EA-6B Prowler jet, whose mission is electronic warfare.

Contrary to the hopes of the Boeing company, as reported in the Whidbey News-Times last month, Sec. Pete Aldridge didn’t give the go ahead to proceed with plans to use the EA-18 as the sole replacement to the Prowler.

Instead, Aldridge gave the go-ahead for the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force to discuss plans for their own electronic warfare solutions with Congress, said a press release from Congressmen Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Rick Larsen, from Washington’s 2nd Congressional District. Pitts and Larsen are co-chairs of the Electronic Warfare Working Group.

“As the Representative for NAS Whidbey, the home of the Prowler, I am supportive of proceeding with the (EA-18) Growler,” said Larsen. “Replacing the Prowler is key to guaranteeing the safety of our servicemen and women.”

While Aldridge gave the Navy the OK to present the EA-18 option, his approach of seeking a three-fold redundancy in electronic attack is viewed by some as a waste of resources. Assigning electronic attack to the Navy alone would free the other services for other aspects of flight missions.

“While I am pleased that the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps recognize the need to replace the EA-6B Prowler, I am concerned that each service seems to be moving in a different direction,” Pitts said. “I believe this will hurt the support jamming mission that is essential to gaining and maintaining air superiority.”

Pitts also said that the Navy cannot afford “the service-wide, standoff jamming mission.”

The plan approved by Aldridge allows the Air Force to brief Congress on its proposal to hang radar jamming equipment from the wings of B-52s and the Marine Corps to continue using the EA-6B Prowler for its own electronic attack capability.

In a telephone interview this week, Larsen said that Aldridge’s approval of the plan doesn’t mean negative consequences for the Navy’s electronic attack mission or for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“I believe the Navy will continue to be part of the electronic warfare community and I believe that Naval Air Station Whidbey Island will continue to be...the main base for the follow-on platform,” Larsen said. “But, that decision is eight to 10 years down the road,” he said of the basing of the new aircraft.

The more immediate decisions that Pentagon officials and Congress need to make involve deciding on the type of aircraft that will replace the Prowler. Aldridge’s decision to allow the three service branches to brief Congress on their plans delays making a decision about the replacement.

“The only decision I understand...Secretary Aldridge made was to move forward with a set of options,” Larsen said. “I’m very pleased that the EA-18 is part of the discussion.”

Larsen said no timeline has been set for the three branches of service to begin the congressional briefings or for a deadline by which a Prowler replacement decision must be made.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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