St. Augustine Plant to Build New EA-6B Aircraft Parts
The US Navy can
anticipate enhanced readiness for its fleet of EA-6B Prowler
electronic attack aircraft due to a decision by Northrop Grumman
Corporation to restart its production line for making outer wing
panels for the aircraft. The outer wing panel extends from wing
fold to wing tip and includes the interior wing structure plus its
outer metal "skin."
The EA-6B Prowler is the US military's only tactical electronic
attack aircraft. It provides an umbrella of protection for strike
aircraft, ground troops and ships by jamming enemy radar,
electronic data links and communications.
Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector, the Navy's EA-6B
prime contractor, held a ceremony on Dec. 17 to mark the re-opening
of the line at its aircraft manufacturing facility here. Operated
by the sector's Airborne Early Warning and Electronic Warfare
Systems (AEW&EWS) business area, the line was formerly located
in Bethpage, N.Y., AEW&EWS' headquarters. It was shut down in
1987 when EA-6B production requirements had been met.
The company has started producing the first of 54 sets of outer
wing panels – also known as "ship sets" – that it
expects to produce for the Navy on the new line.
"The Navy's fleet of EA-6B Prowlers have guaranteed the safe
return of hundreds of air combat crews flying missions over the
years in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom,
Kosovo and elsewhere," said Philip A. Teel, sector vice president,
AEW&EWS. "Almost no combat mission is flown without protection
from a Prowler. The large number of missions over a relatively
short time, however, means that these aircraft must be overhauled
sooner than originally planned."
According to NAVAIR EA-6B Program Manager Capt. Ken Smolana, who
attended the ceremony, the Navy recently reevaluated the
wing-fatigue life algorithm for the Prowler with updated
information based on tear downs of worn-out wings.
"We discovered that we were actually wearing out wings at a much
higher rate than previously estimated," he said. "This information
forced us to remove from service a large number of aircraft ahead
of schedule to await wing replacement.
"Northrop Grumman's performance and especially the wing
production team at St. Augustine have been exceptional," added
Capt. Smolana. "Not only are they producing a quality product, they
have accelerated production in an effort to help us quickly return
the flyable EA-6B inventory to its previous level. Today's
startup of the outer wing panel line is a significant step in our
path to recovery."
Engineering work for the new outer panels will be performed by
AEW&EWS in Bethpage and St. Augustine. All production work
will be done in St. Augustine. Northrop Grumman plans to
deliver first shipset in July 2005. Once completed, the outer wing
panels will be installed on Prowlers at fleet sites or Navy
According to Joseph Ruggiero, AEW&EWS' director of platform
viability programs, the company's goal is to go beyond a successful
production line restart. "Since the Prowler is so important to the
Navy and the other armed services, we're giving ourselves the added
challenge of delivering the first shipset several months ahead of
schedule," he said.
In addition to the outer wing panels, Integrated Systems is
currently producing wing center sections for EA-6B aircraft, also
at an accelerated rate, to meet fleet needs. The company will
deliver the 64th wing center section this month, six months ahead
of contract schedule. The St. Augustine line is ramping up to
produce two wing center sections per month starting in January
2004. In total, Integrated Systems has contracts worth
approximately $292 million to produce 114 sets of wing center