Electronic Weapons: Cheaper And More Important Than The F-22

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November 22,2008: While the U.S. Air Force is tying itself in knots trying to get its new generation (F-22 and F-35) of fighters funded and built, the U.S. Navy is coping with a more mundane problem; electronic warfare. The navy is starting to get the first of 85 EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft ready for action. These will replace 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.

Last June the navy received its first operational (as opposed to developmental) EA-18G ("Growler") electronic warfare aircraft. The current electronic warfare aircraft, the 27 ton EA-6Bs, are not expected to last much beyond 2015 (they entered service in 1971). They are being replaced by the 29 ton EA-18G. The older EA-6B carries a crew of four, while the highly automated 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.

 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. Production of the F-18E is not yet complete, with only about 80 percent of the 493 ordered delivered.

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. Older fighters, like the F-16, cost $60 million, and an F-15E goes for about $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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