By Geoff Fein

The Department of Defense (DoD) last month finished initial operational test and evaluation for Boeing‘s [BA] EA-18G, finding the new electronic attack aircraft operationally effective, operationally suitable and ready for fleet introduction.

"The evaluation of Navy’s testing community, under the Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Forces, determined that the EA-18G is able to effectively perform the intended operational mission and is also found to be suitable. The suitability evaluation focuses on maintainability, reliability and many support aspects with the intention of validating that the system under test will be available when needed," according to a statement from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

The DoD’s findings were released July 29.

"This is a major major milestone for the program," Boeing ‘s Rick Martin, EA-18G program manager told reporters during a media briefing yesterday.

"It’s the highest rating the program could receive," he said. "It’s not only critically important, but a major milestone for the fleet."

According to Martin, the Navy’s operational evaluation test team were very thorough, spending approximately 396 flight hours putting the Growler through its paces, between September ’08 and May.

The success of the Growler can be attributed to the integrated product team’s relationship as well as the ability of the program to hit every major milestone on or ahead of schedule, Martin noted.

"Right now, we are two months ahead of schedule," he added. "We are under budget at this point."

The program of record is 88 Growlers. Boeing is under contract for 34. To date the company has delivered 12 aircraft to the Navy. Full rate production will result in an additional 54 aircraft, Martin said.

He noted there has been talk of potentially adding additional Growlers for a land-based electronic attack requirement.

"We consider the EA-18G program to be a ‘model’ in terms of executing better than planned," Capt. Mark Darrah, F/A-18 & EA-18G program manager, said last week. "A critical reason why the Growler remained on cost and on schedule while exceeding the performance required was the aggressive management of risk and requirements."

Combining the latest capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with modern Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) systems and weapons, the next generation in airborne electronic attack, EA-18G Growler, continues to be delivered on cost and ahead of schedule, NAVAIR said.

"The Navy’s acquisition strategy of integrating the already proven EA-6B Improved Capability III (ICAP III) AEA suite with the Block 2 F/A-18F Super Hornet means the EA-18G was able to demonstrate the inherent reliability and maintainability that the fleet currently enjoys with the Super Hornet and the exceptional operational capability of the ICAP III AEA System," Darrah said. "This robust integration of these two mature weapon systems will ensure that the U.S. Navy will continue to provide world class tactical AEA capability well into the future."

Software anomalies were discovered during the IOT&E process, and the Integrated Product Team is actively engaged in developing a software update release that will be used for verification of and correction of deficiencies (VCD) development period, which is currently scheduled to start later this year.

Martin said that in most cases testers were able to identify solutions and test those on aircraft. They will be made available in the next software load.

"The software with updates will be made to support that testing," he added.

The anomalies, he added, had more to do with the maturity of the systems–integrating the various jamming pods with the rest of the electronic attack suite.

"It was not so much on the receive or jam side, but more to do with the general integration of the system," Martin said.

Consistent with the Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler was designed for spiral development. Software updates that address existing anomalies were designed into the plan from the beginning of the program, according to NAVAIR.