By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy’s top admiral on Monday confirmed that the Navy would include Boeing Co EA-18G electronic attack planes on a list of “unfunded” priorities requested by Congress, saying the Navy might need the jets for future missions.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told reporters that he would like to buy more of the planes to help the Navy carry out future requirements for electronic attack missions, subject to several studies being conducted by the Defense Department.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon asked the military services and combatant commanders to submit a list of any priorities they were unable to fund in the 2015 budget, which is the product of many compromises across the entire Department of Defense.
Being on the list doesn’t guarantee the request will be funded, but it provides lawmakers some justification if they choose to add money for certain programs.
Congress already added $75 million in advanced procurement money for 22 more Growlers as part of its fiscal 2014 budget, laying the groundwork for additional jets to be added to the fiscal 2015 budget.
The Navy did not include funding for Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets or EA-18G Growlers in its fiscal 2015 budget or a separate “growth” fund established by the White House.
But Greenert said the Navy may need additional jets given current requirements, and several studies are now under way looking at what future capabilities the U.S. military needs to ensure that fighter jets can safely enter enemy territory.
Growlers jam enemy radars and other equipment so fighter jets can carry out their attack missions safely.
“We’re the only (Department of Defense) option for electronic attack,” Greenert told reporters ahead of his testimony in Congress later this week. “If I could get a hedge and reduce the risk, we should.”
A senior Navy official said the Navy would request 22 Growlers in its list, which must still be vetted by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff before it is sent to Congress.
Reuters reported last week that the Navy planned to add 22 Growlers to the list at a cost of $2.14 billion.
Boeing has been pressing the Navy and Congress to order more jets and avert a shutdown of the F/A-18 and EA-18G production line after 2016. The company argues that allowing the production line to close will result in the loss of unique industrial capabilities and will leave the United States dependent on one tactical fighter maker.
A draft version of the Navy’s unfunded priorities list said the extra planes would let the Navy expand each Growler squadron on an aircraft carrier to seven jets from five.
It remains unclear if Hagel will allow the Navy’s request for more Growlers to be sent to lawmakers.
One source familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that the request was likely to meet resistance from senior defense officials, given competing demands for resources, a strong commitment to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter, which includes a carrier-based model for the Navy, and a general shift away from single-purpose aircraft.