Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the Navy was reviewing its inventory of tactical aircraft, including Growlers and strike fighters, to ensure its electronic attack needs were met.
Congress, responding to an “unfunded priority” list submitted by the Navy earlier this year, is poised to approve orders of 12 more EA-18G Growlers in the fiscal 2015 budget, which will help Boeing extend the production line for the jets in St. Louis through 2017.
For many years, back in the Prowler days, the Electronic Attack squadrons only had four jets. In recent years, with shrinking numbers of air wings, though, the Navy has gone to five jets in a VAQ squadron. All the EA-18G squadrons have five planes.
Even with five birds, a squadron is hard pressed to have more than one or two birds up in the air at any one time. Now, if the air wing is only supporting one strike, that’s not a major issue. But in today’s environment, guided munitions mean a carrier can launch widely dispersed attacks at several targets. While the Growler can cover a lot of ground, even it has a finite limit to just how much it can do. Further, the Navy is learning that the EA mission is more than just jamming radars. The uses keep expanding.
At the same time, the total numbers of tactical aircraft on a carrier deck is decreasing, leaving a fair bit of room for a few more aircraft.
And so, the Navy is taking a long hard look at possibly increasing the size of its Growler squadrons to as many as seven or eight aircraft each.
It would love to do so, but the problem is money and manpower. First off, money to buy the additional jets needed. Right now, the desire for additional jets is unfunded. The Navy is kinda sorta hoping the Congress will add the money over and above the Navy’s budget request. And it just might.
The second issue, manpower, is a little trickier. It takes time, money, and planes to expand the Growler community. There is already a chronic shortage to tactical fast jet aircrew in Naval Air, and it’s not looking to get any better. An increase in the total numbers of TacAir crews is going to be hard to achieve. But the payoff, in greater capability, is a laudable goal. It just remains to be seen if it is a realistic goal.