Electronic Warfare:

Option of Upgrading Additional EA-6Bs Could Reduce Risk in Development of EA-18G

GAO-06-446: Published: Apr 26, 2006. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2006.

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The EA-6B has conducted airborne electronic attack for all services since 1996. In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) completed an analysis of alternatives for the EA-6B that concluded the inventory would be insufficient to meet the DOD's needs beyond 2009. Since then, the services have embarked on separate acquisition efforts to develop airborne electronic attack assets. In 2003, the Navy started development of the EA-18G aircraft to replace the EA-6B. This report was done under the Comptroller General's authority and assesses if (1) DOD's 2002 conclusion that the EA-6B inventory would be insufficient beyond 2009 remains valid for assessing the Navy's future needs, and (2) the acquisition approach used to develop the EA-18G is knowledge-based and might mitigate future risks.

EA-6B aircraft will be able to meet the Navy's suppression of enemy air defense needs through at least 2017 and the needs of the Marine Corps through 2025--as long as sufficient numbers of the aircraft are outfitted with upgraded electronics suites. The conclusion that the EA-6B inventory would be insufficient past 2009 was not based on the Navy's requirement for 90 aircraft, but on an inventory requirement of 108 aircraft that would meet the needs of all services. The decision to move to a system of systems using multiple aircraft types means the Navy will no longer be required to support all of DOD's electronic attack requirements. However, insufficient quantities of upgraded jamming systems means that the majority of the EA-6B fleet is equipped with the older jamming system that is limited in its ability to conduct numerous critical functions. If the Navy is required to support all services, given the recent Air Force proposal to terminate its EB-52 standoff jammer program, additional EA-6Bs may require the Improved Capability (ICAP) III upgrade. The risk of cost growth and schedule delays in the EA-18G program is increasing because the program is not following a knowledge-based approach to acquisition. None of its five critical technologies were fully mature as the system development phase began, and that is still the case today. Of particular concern is the ALQ-218 receiver, placed in the harsh wingtip environment on the EA-18G and not the more benign setting of the EA-6B's tail, for which it was developed. While the EA-18G's design appears stable, and almost all its design drawings are complete, that may change once the aircraft is flight-tested. Production of the EA-18G is also risky: One-third of the total buy will be procured as low-rate initial production aircraft based on limited demonstrated functionality.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD the AEA briefing to the DEPSECDEF indicated that 7 additional EA-6B ICAP III aircraft would fully equip USMC near-term requirements. OUSD(AT&L) clarified that the AEA briefing indicated that no additional EA-6B ICAP III aircraft were needed to meet Navy's requirements. EA-6B ICAP III aircraft are currently meeting electronic attack requirements, therefore it is difficult to determine an exact number of EA-6B ICAP III necessary to complement the Navy's transition to a newer, and more capable, AEA platform. The numbers vary based on AEA capability assumptions across the ICAP II and ICAP III portfolio. The AEA study indicated that procuring seven additional ICAP III kits would meet the minimum requirements to fully equip the USMC Expeditionary EA-6B force with 22 ICAP III capable aircraft.

    Recommendation: To mitigate the effects accruing from the shortfall in upgraded EA-6B aircraft, the risk of delay in the development of the EA-18G, and the proposed cancellation of the EB-52 jammer and the Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System, the Secretary of Defense should determine the number of EA-6Bs equipped with ICAP III electronic suites necessary to deal with the existing and near-term capability gaps.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DoD is taking the findings of the AEA review into account as part of ongoing budget deliberations. The FY07 GWOT Supplemental Request included funding for seven additional ICAP III conversions, the minimum number cited by the AEA review to fully equip the USMC Expeditionary EA-6B force with 22 ICAP III capable aircraft. The ultimate decision on EA-6B ICAP III upgrades would be reflected in later budgets.

    Recommendation: To mitigate the effects accruing from the shortfall in upgraded EA-6B aircraft, the risk of delay in the development of the EA-18G, and the proposed cancellation of the EB-52 jammer and the Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System, the Secretary of Defense should consider procuring this necessary number of ICAP III upgrades. If DOD implements the option the department should continue the EA-6B ICAP III production line after the fiscal year 2006 buy, and restructure its EA-18G low-rate initial production plans so that procurement of the aircraft occurs after the aircraft has demonstrated full functionality.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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