Boeing [BA] is hopeful that Marine Corps plans to retire four squadrons of EA-6B Prowlers for electronic attack warfare will open the door for extending the production line for F/A-18s, which is the airframe for the Growler variant for electronic attack, a senior executive said last week.

Mike Gibbons, Boeing vice president and general manager for the F/A-18 Super Hornets and EA-18 Growlers, said the Pentagon is now working through how the gap caused by the retirement of the EA-6Bs over the next five or six years will be filled across the joint requirements for electronic warfare.

“What (the retirement) leaves is a gap in a mission set that is already stressed because it’s a high demand, low density asset,” he said. “There seems to be absolutely no debate with anyone that we need more Growlers.”

One option would be to give the Navy the money to buy more Growlers beyond the numbers in the current multi-year contract that would have the last delivery of F/A-18s and EA-18s take place in 2015, he said, noting they would also require expanding the Navy’s role for the joint requirements.

Boeing currently has no customers for the F/A-18 and EA-18s once the multi-year contract with the Navy is completed in 2015 and would have to face closing the production line if there aren’t subsequent orders.

Boeing has been looking to compete the F/A-18 internationally, most recently with Brazil, which is expected to announce a winner by the end of this year after delaying a decision anticipated for this summer. Boeing is also eyeing possible suitors in the Middle East.

Gibbons also believes that the delays in the development and deliveries of Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could also result in additional Navy purchases of F/A-18s to continue to meet strike capability requirements.

“They have to have jets and the F-35 is sliding to the right,” he said, adding he was confident there will F/A-18 and EA-18 purchases by the Navy “quite a few more years beyond 2015.”

Three of the four defense related spending measures for fiscal 2013 currently in Congress call for funding the advance procurement of EA-18s, Gibbons said, that could eventually lead to a contract for more of the airplanes beyond 2015.

The multi-year deal with the Navy calls on Boeing to provide 90 F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet variants as well as 58 EA-18Gs.The Navy has the option of extending the buy to 196 aircraft under the contract awarded in 2010.