ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., Dec. 22, 2003 (PRIMEZONE) -- The U.S. Navy can anticipate enhanced readiness for its fleet of EA-6B Prowler electronic attack aircraft due to a decision by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) 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 U.S. 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 depots.
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 sections.
Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems is a premier aerospace and defense systems integration enterprise. Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., it designs, develops, produces and supports network-enabled integrated systems and subsystems for U.S. government, civil and international customers. Integrated Systems delivers best-value solutions, products and services that support military and homeland security missions in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; space access; battle management command and control; and integrated strike warfare.
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