The Navy continues to evaluate whether it will need more EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft on the deck of a carrier even though service officials chose to include no new Growlers in its 2016 defense budget request.
The current configuration for an aircraft carrier's air wing includes five Growler aircraft per squadron; however, an ongoing evaluation of the jamming aircraft is leading the service to consider increasing this number to seven or eight per squadron.
The Navy's 2016 budget request adds no new Growler aircraft to the current acquisition plan, which specifies that the service is funded to procure 153 Growlers --- with final delivery taking place in 2017. As of Feb. 1, 114 Growlers have been delivered, said Navy Lt. Robert Myers, a service spokesman.
"As shown, the EA-18 Growler line completes in '15, as the Growler progresses to full operational capability with stand up of the fifteenth and final squadron in 2017," Rear Adm. William Lescher, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said following the release of the 2016 Navy budget request.
Last year, Congress added 15 Growlers to the budget to keep the production line open an additional year following significant lobbying efforts by Boeing. Many expect congressional supporters of the EA-18G to again add more Growlers to the 2016 budget despite the Navy's decision not to include them in their budget request.
Defense analysts have pointed to the need for more electronic attack aircraft like the Growler as air defenses advance and stealth aircraft become less effective. Faster computers processors, sensors and radar are allowing air defense systems to locate stealth aircraft and other platforms at increasingly longer distances.
As a result, while some stealth aircraft can jam X-band radar signals, an EA-18G Growler can jam a wider range of frequencies and protect strike and surveillance aircraft operating in a given area, analysts said.
Last summer, the Navy conducted a special assessment of Growler aircraft on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in which three additional aircraft were added to an EA-18G Growler squadron. This move brought the number of Growlers on the deck of the carrier from five to eight.
"The purpose of the experiment was to empirically measure the operational benefit over a several day period of increased electronic attack support capacity across multiple mission areas, including strike warfare packages and the ability to defend the carrier in an increasingly complex electronic warfare environment," Myers said.
Called the Airborne Electronic Attack Fleet Battle Experiment, the event took place from late May to early June of last year. Part of the experiment was designed to assess the value of having more Growlers in an anticipated future threat environment, Myers explained.
"Indicators suggest that the addition of EA-18G Growler capacity to our embarked carrier air wings greatly enhances the Navy's ability to support both the Joint Force commander and the Maritime Component commander in their missions set," Myers said.
Officials with the Boeing Company, which manufactures the EA-18G Growler aircraft at a facility in St. Louis, Mo., said they will likely need to make a decision mid-year on whether to continue the production line for Growlers, given the need to make plans and preparations, company officials said.
"One look at the deck of any forward Navy aircraft carrier and you see a host of combat proven strike and electronic attack capability. The role of the Growler is unmatched. We will continue to work with the Navy to assess those needs," said Caroline Hutcheson, Boeing military aircraft spokeswoman.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com.