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The EA-18G Growler: A Milestone and a Call to Action | Commentary

I was proud to celebrate recently with thousands of Boeing Co. aerospace workers in St. Louis and across the country as they delivered the 100th EA-18G Growler to the Navy, on time and on budget. That’s a feat in and of itself at a time when other defense contracts get more attention for cost overruns and delays.

But what really makes the Growler stand out from the crowd is its high-tech capabilities and its critical role in safeguarding American pilots flying other aircraft.

The Growler is our military’s only dedicated electronic attack jet, carrying state-of-the-art electronic radar and jamming technologies operated by a separate electronic warfare officer sitting in the second seat, while the pilot concentrates on flying. That means it’s the only aircraft that can jam enemy radars and sensors, including those that can detect stealth jets. And by keeping them off radar, the Growler is keeping all of our pilots safe from threats such as enemy fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles.

The aerospace workers who build the Growler should feel very proud of their work and this milestone. But now is no time to rest on our laurels. The production line faces cancelation by 2016, due to shortsighted budget cuts at the Pentagon, even though the Navy has said it needs many more Growlers to meet the growing demand for electronic attack. Congress must move immediately to meet the Navy’s need and to preserve the production line that is so important to our strategic industrial base.

Growlers are increasingly in high demand. Decades ago, our adversaries possessed only rudimentary anti-aircraft radar, which our stealth fighters and bombers easily evaded. Today, more of our adversaries are buying the kinds of high-tech anti-aircraft systems — part of an anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD strategy — that can detect our planes from a long distance, including stealth fighters like the F-22 Raptor and new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Growler is the only aircraft capable of defeating the full spectrum of radar and sensors employed by these systems, enabling our pilots to fly undetected in heavily defended airspace and carry out critical missions, safe from enemy fighters or surface-to-air missiles.

Today, the Navy only has enough Growlers to meet a technical “minimum requirement” for current needs. In a major military operation, not every mission would be fortunate enough to be escorted by a Growler. And Navy leaders are unanimous that demand for Growlers will continue to grow as our adversaries continue to upgrade their anti-aircraft systems. Experts have estimated that the Navy needs at least 50 to 100 more Growlers to ensure there are enough of these life-saving aircraft to protect our pilots for the foreseeable future.

Budgets are tight, and we need to make every effort to control spending. But we must not shortchange our troops when there is such a clear need. The Navy has asked Congress to meet an unfunded requirement for 22 additional Growlers as part of the 2015 budget. This would be a good start at meeting the Navy’s long-term Growler needs. It would also keep the production line open, supporting 60,000 jobs across the country, including 13,000 in Missouri with an estimated $640 million in annual economic impact for the state. And it would preserve the Navy’s options for purchasing more of these jets, if future needs demand it.

I am calling on my colleagues in Congress to meet the Navy’s need and work with it on options to make it a reality. This should not be the last milestone for this critical aircraft. I look forward to celebrating the 200th delivery in a few years.

Rep. William Lacy Clay is a Democrat from Missouri.