Electronic Weapons: Growler Lite


February 25, 2009: Now that the U.S. Navy is receiving the first of 85 EA-18G "Growler" electronic warfare aircraft ready, the manufacturer. Boeing, has developed an export version, nicknamed "Growler Lite". This model would not ship with its normal ALQ-99 radar jamming pod, because that technology is top secret. In place of ALQ-99, there would be the ALQ-218(V)2 radio frequency receiver (for eavesdropping) and the ALQ-227 communication countermeasures system (for messing with enemy comms). This would turn the EA-18G into an electronic monitoring system. Meanwhile, there are some radar jamming pods on the international market. What nations really require is jammers that will work against the neighbors they feel they might have to fight someday. The export EA-18G will also ship with a APG-79 phased array (AESA) radar, which also has some jamming capability (with the right software.)

In U.S. service, the EA-18Gs are replacing the aging EA-6Bs that now provide electronic protection against enemy radars and missiles for navy and air force aircraft. The air force retired their EF-111 electronic warfare aircraft in 1994, on the assurance that the navy would get the EA-18G into service before the EA-6Bs died of old age. The older 27 ton EA-6B carries a crew of four, while the highly automated 29 ton EA-18G will have only two people on board. The EA-18G carries up to five electronic warfare pods, plus two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and two anti-radiation (HARM) missiles. It may be the last manned aircraft to handle the EW job. UAVs are becoming more capable, and will eventually take over this dangerous task.

In 2007, the navy received its first operational (as opposed to developmental) EA-18G  electronic warfare aircraft. The navy will receive 52 EA-18Gs over the next four years, and another 30 after that (at the rate of about five a year). The U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps are planning on developing an electronic warfare version of the new F-35, or use a UAV, if the EA-18Gs are not plentiful, or powerful enough to provide all the electronic protection needed in future wars.

Despite the high expense all the electronic gear, the F-18G is not the most expensive combat aircraft out there. The F-22 costs $355 million each. The low budget F-18E costs $94 million each, while the F-18G goes for $105 million. The F-35 costs $122 million. Even unmanned aircraft are pricy, with the Global Hawk costing $182 million each (with high end sensors). Older fighters, like the F-16, cost $60 million, and an F-15E goes for about $100 million. The price of the export EA-18G hasn't set yet, but it will probably be under $100 million.

These prices constantly fluctuate because of the need to incorporate a share of the development cost for each aircraft built. While most development expense occurs before mass production begins, there is sometimes considerable additional development expense, or major refurbishment, later in the lifetime of an aircraft. Many modern warplanes cost more than most warships, and have the same high maintenance (periodic refurbishment and development of new components) expenses.




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