NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Boeing’s E/A-18G Growler could be getting a package of upgrades in the mid-2020s that will give it a suite of new tools to electronically attack its foes.
Early this year, the Navy awarded Boeing initial funding to begin studying what kinds of technologies could be incorporated into a “Block 2 Growler,” said Jen Tebo, the company’s director of Super Hornet and Growler development.
“There were kind of rumblings of Growler Block 2 a year ago, and now it is a real thing,” Tebo told reporters on the sidelines of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space. “The Growler is the only platform of its type that is being produced today and so it makes sense that we would take something that was designed in the 90s and now enhance it to really be relevant for decades to come.”
The Navy is interested in retrofitting some — potentially all — of its E/A-18G fleet in the mid 2020s. The exact nature of those upgrades is still to be decided, but Tebo outlined a couple broad improvements.
First, Boeing plans to improve the Growler’s electronic attack sensors. For example, it is considering enhancements to Northrop Grumman’s ALQ-218 sensor system, which is used by the Growler for radar warning, electronic support measures and electronic intelligence, Tebo said.
It plans to add “adaptive and distributed processing” so that the E/A-18’s computers can quickly digest and pump out threat information. And because those computers will be processing more information and delivering it to the pilot and weapon system officer, it makes sense to improve interfaces so that data is easy to digest and the aircrew’s workload is minimized, she said.
“All of that is kind of accomplished through software defined radios that are enabled through a flexible and adaptable hardware architecture,” Tebo said.
“That not only gives the Navy step function capability now but sets up the infrastructure and the architecture to allow us to continually evolve capability, as the threats are dynamic out there and they change,” she said. “We don’t know what they are, and the life of the Growler is very very long.”
The Block 2 upgrades will also contain some capabilities that Boeing has already developed for the latest Block 3 iteration of the Super Hornet, such as low-drag conformal fuel tanks. The company is also assessing whether to boost the Growler’s 7,500 hour service life as part of the retrofit process.
Boeing is in the “wrap up phases” of its initial trade study and will brief the Navy and other stakeholders in industry on its result, she said.
“As we move later this year to the SFR — the system functional requirements phase — sometime in that you’ve got to nail down an architecture to get to the functional requirements of this and how we might achieve them.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.