LONDON, July 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said it was pleased with the results of a test that put three extra Boeing Co EA-18G electronic attack jets on the deck of an aircraft carrier in late May and early June, an exercise that could underpin future orders of the jets.
“The exercise went very well. We gained a deeper understanding of the incredible value of the EA-18G Growler and how to best employ its capability, and increased capacity, from the flight deck of our aircraft carrier,” said Commander Jeannie Groeneveld, spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s naval air force.
Groeneveld said the Navy was still reviewing lessons learned from the exercise, which took place aboard the USS Carl Vinson off the coast of southern California. The test came at a time when Boeing is lobbying U.S. lawmakers to add orders for the planes and keep its St. Louis production line open past 2016.
The exercise could help Navy officials make the case for adding EA-18G Growlers to the five planes now slated to go on each of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers in coming years.
Congress is likely to approve funding for 12 more of the fast electronic attack jets beyond those ordered in fiscal 2015, and Boeing is already pressing for added jets in 2016.
The Navy did not include money in its fiscal 2015 budget request for more Boeing EA-18G Growlers, but later added 22 of the jets to its “unfunded priorities list” for about $2.2 billion. Now several key committees have approved funding for 12 jets. That is enough to stretch production through half of 2017, but Boeing is in talks with the Navy about slowing the delivery of jets already on order to keep the line going for a full year.
“Initial indicators suggest that the addition of EA-18G Growler capacity to our ... carrier air wings greatly enhances the Navy’s ability to support both the Joint Force commander and the Maritime Component commander,” she said.
She said the exercise was aimed at measuring the operational benefit of having added electronic attack support capacity available on the carrier for use in a variety of mission areas, including by destroyers that accompany the carrier.
Captain Frank Morley, who runs the F/A-18 and EA-18G programs for the Navy, said he had heard “generally positive feedback” on the test, but had no further details.
Morley told Reuters this week that the Navy was open to slowing production, but not if it added to costs. A subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a measure on Thursday that would add $100 million to help fund the contracting change and keep the line open through the end of 2017. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Editing by Andre Grenon)