The Pentagon will conduct an overall review of its electromagnetic warfare capabilities this summer and the outcome help will inform how the Navy proceeds with its EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft program, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, says.

The broad assessment of capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum will help the service determine whether more Growlers are needed ahead of the possible closing of Boeing’s

[BA] production line in St. Louis, Greenert said.

An E/A-18 Growler in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo by Boeing.
An E/A-18 Growler in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo by Boeing.

“We want to get a final accounting before we would stop the production line,” he told the Defense Writers Group on Wednesday.

The Navy plans to build up its fleet of Growlers to 212 with funding running through fiscal 2014 but acknowledges the mission for airborne electronic attack capability will likely require more aircraft, which is why the service submitted to Congress an unfunded priority request of 22 Growlers for fiscal 2015.

The House of Representatives authorized five additional Growlers in 2015, and the Senate Armed Services Committee added $100 million–almost  enough for two–in funding for the aircraft while instructing the Navy to keep its options open to buy more if needed. The appropriations committees in each chamber will ultimately decide how much money–if any–the Navy gets for Growlers.

Those numbers, however, fall short of the quantity Boeing says it needs to avoid closing the production line in 2016.

“We appreciate the support of congressional advocates throughout the budget process,” Boeing spokeswoman Lisa Maull said. “We continue to encourage Congress to fund the Navy’s request for 22 additional Growlers.”

The Growlers detect enemy radar and surface-to-air threats and employ sophisticated jamming capabilities to neutralize them, allowing other aircraft to more safely enter contested airspace to carry out strike missions. The Navy is the only service that provides airborne electronic attack with the soon-to-be retired EA-6B Prowlers and the EA-18Gs that are replacing them.

“We’re it right now,” Greenert said, referring to the Navy as the sole provider of airborne electronic attack. He noted that the capability of the Growlers will be enhanced once they start carrying the next generation jammer toward the end of this decade.

Greenert told the House Armed Services Committee in March that the current plan for the Growlers only meets the minimum requirement.

“When you look at requirements, we are at minimum requirement–as we know it,” Greenert said. “However, I look to the future and…electronic warfare, electronic attack is critical, it gets us joint assured access. I see a growing need.”