Boeing [BA] delivered the first fleet EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft to the Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129, Tuesday at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Wash., ahead of schedule and within budget, the company said.

Boeing previously delivered five EA-18G aircraft to the Navy’s flight test community.

“At a time when most acquisition news focuses on problems and setbacks, I am pleased to note that this has been a success story and an excellent example of Navy-contractor teamwork and collaboration,” Navy Secretary Donald Winter said during a ceremony on the station’s flight line. “By leveraging and evolving legacy programs– the F/A-18 as a platform and significant payload components from the EA-6B–this program now stands as a model case of what can be achieved. This next-generation aircraft is in a class by itself, combining airborne electronic attack with the newest technologies that belong to the Super Hornet Block II.”

A derivative of the combat-proven, two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet, the EA-18G’s highly flexible design enables warfighters to perform an array of AEA missions, operating from either the deck of an aircraft carrier or land-based fields. The EA-18G integrates the capabilities of the most advanced AEA system with the advanced weapons, sensors and communications systems found on the Super Hornet.

“The Growler is a great example of the innovative solutions we can provide by working hand-in-hand with our customer to meet the needs of the warfighter today and in the future. And just like with the Super Hornet, the Navy and Boeing are providing this game-changing solution ahead of schedule and within budget,” Jim Albaugh, president and chief executive oficer of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, said.

The Navy selected the EA-18G to replace its current AEA platform, Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] EA-6B Prowler, that has been in service since 1971. Boeing received the EA-18G System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase contract in December 2003 and delivered the first EA-18G Growler to the Navy in September 2006. The aircraft is scheduled to enter Operational Evaluation in September. The Navy program of record calls for 85 EA-18G aircraft, according to Boeing.

Boeing, acting as the weapon system integrator and prime contractor, leads the EA-18G Growler industry team. Northrop Grumman is the principal subcontractor and airborne electronic attack subsystem integrator. The Hornet Industry Team includes Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric [GE] and Raytheon [RTN]. The SDD program concludes with an Initial Operational Capability in 2009. Naval Air Systems Command PMA-265 is the Navy acquisition office for the EA-18G, Boeing said.

The VAQ-129 Vikings serve as the Fleet Readiness Squadron at NAS Whidbey Island, which is home port for all airborne electronic attack aircraft in the Navy’s arsenal. The Vikings began flying the EA-6B Prowler in 1971, and will receive the first five fleet EA-18Gs, according to Boeing.