Thursday, August 23, 2012

Newsflash to the U.S. Marine Corps - the EA-18G Growler is available now, and all you have to do is pay for it.

The Royal Australian Air Force will buy into the EA-18G Growler program, the same aircraft the U.S. Navy is using to replace their EA-6B Prowlers with. The U.S. Navy is presently performing the electronic attack/warfare mission alongside U.S. Marine Prowlers as well, and have been active participants in the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular with IED's.

Australia To Convert Super Hornets To Electronic-Attack Growlers

Upgrades to an F/A-18F that comprise of the EA-18G Growler

The U.S. Navy  has invested heavily into the Super Hornet program, replacing all their Grumman F-14's and then some with the platform. While I would argue that the Super Hornet is a much better replacement for the legacy Hornet than it will ever be for the F-14, the fact of the matter is that the program has otherwise been very successful in delivering a modern platform that is both easy to operate as it is to maintain.

In other words, it accomplishes the mission while not busting the budget. In fact, depending upon all the economies of scale that go with a large order, you can nearly get two Super Hornets for the price of one F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Once again, the F-35B is a great aircraft to replace the AV-8B Harrier with, even if it does cost exponentially greater than the Harriers ever did, even adjusting for inflation. However, why buy 80 F-35C's to operate off the Navy's nuclear powered aircraft carriers, when you can save money and satisfy the agreement with the Navy with the Super Hornet? This agreement between the Navy and Marine Corps is one the Marines would undoubtedly probably prefer not to have to perform (see the LHA(R) if you require further proof,) if they were not otherwise obligated to, but the Marines are still part of the Department of the Navy, and the relationship works both ways

Even better, by replacing their F/A-18D's with F/A-18F's, the Marines can retain their VMFA(AW) squadrons used specifically in the aerial forward air controller role, or FAC(A), which has been a crucial role to the grunts and special operators on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two seat Delta Hornets have been useful for the Corps in carrying out the mission of the Air Wing which is to support the grunts on the ground, and there is little argument that two sets of eyeballs will always be superior to one in a hostile, contested airspace. (F-35's are single seat only.)

U.S. Navy EA-18G over NAS Patuxent River
But F/A-18F's unlike the F/A-18D's that the Marines presently use, are welcome aboard the Navy's nuclear carriers because they have a useful minimum range. In order to make room for the second person in the F/A-18D, fuel tanks were removed in the fuselage and in turn, resulted in an aircraft that would have a dangerously low combat radius, and so they have never deployed on Navy carriers like their Marine single seat Hornets have.

So instead of buying 80 F-35C's to satisfy the agreement with the Navy and their carrier air wings, why not save some of our uncle's (Sam) money that he really doesn't have anyways, (40¢ of every dollar borrowed goes to China,) and buy 80 F/A-18F's pre-wired to be able to be converted into EA-18G Growlers? This will also enable the Marines to save a tremendous amount of money by retiring their EA-6B Prowlers as the Navy is doing, and save the Marines the exorbitant operating costs that go along with being the last remaining sole operator of an aircraft type.

The Marines have a less than exemplary fiscal record as of late when they pay defense contractors to design and develop new aircraft on their accord (V-22 and F-35B,) so let's make amends and do the prudent thing while the opportunity exists. After all, it's the least the Corps can do given the money they vicariously spent developing the Osprey and the STOVL variant of the JSF, (which ironically was the variant in which the Air Force and Navy would be forced to base their versions off of, ref. X-32 vs. X-35.)

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