March 19 (UPI) -- A five-year program to modernize EA-18G Growler fighter planes is underway with the first plane, builder Boeing announced on Friday.
All 160 U.S. Navy Growlers will receive capability upgrades, centering on their structural and mission systems architecture. The first was inducted into the program this week at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., according to Boeing.
The plane is a specialized version of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, built as a carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft to accompany F/A-18s in attack missions.
Although it can carry missiles and retains all the properties of the F/A-18F Super Hornet platform, the Growler's primary mission involves jamming radar and communications signals of threat forces.
Boeing will update the aircraft's ALQ-218 receiver system with the Airborne Electronic Attack System Enhancements modification, enabling it to operate in increasingly complex electromagnetic environments.
The modifications are meant to expand data transfer to other aircraft and platforms, and improve the speed of data processing.
Boeing said it will also prepare the Growler for the Next Generation Jammer, which greatly improves the Growler's electronic attack capability.
"We're excited to have the Growler industry team here working on capabilities that will bring the fleet enhanced electronic surveillance, enhanced data link and the ability to carry the Next Generation Jammer pod," Capt. Chris Bahner, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's Electronic Attack Wing, said in a Boeing press release.
The advanced system, carried under a plane's wing and to disrupt enemy communications, was successfully used aboard an EA-18G for the first time in August 2020.
The Next Generation Jammer can operate at significantly enhanced ranges compared to previous systems in use, can attack multiple targets simultaneously and can be upgraded.