February 9, 2011: For the last four months, a detachment of five new American EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft have been operating in Iraq. Exactly what they are doing there is classified. The EA-18Gs are replacing the aging EA-6Bs that now provide electronic protection against enemy radars and missiles for navy and air force aircraft. The air force retired their EF-111 electronic warfare aircraft in 1994, on the assurance that the navy would get the EA-18G into service before the EA-6Bs died of old age. The older 27 ton EA-6B carries a crew of four, while the highly automated 29 ton EA-18G has only two people on board. The EA-18G carries up to five electronic warfare pods, plus two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and two anti-radiation (HARM) missiles. It may be the last manned aircraft to handle the EW job. UAVs are becoming more capable, and will eventually take over this dangerous task.
In 2007, the navy received its first operational (as opposed to developmental) EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft. The first production EA-18Gs entered service in late 2009. The navy has ordered 114 EA-18Gs, has about fifty now and is producing the rest at the rate of about five a year. The U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps are planning on developing an electronic warfare version of the new F-35, or use a UAV, if the EA-18Gs are not plentiful, or powerful enough to provide all the electronic protection needed in future wars.
Despite the high expense all the electronic gear, the F-18G is not the most expensive combat aircraft out there. The F-22 costs $355 million each. The low budget F-18E costs $94 million each, while the F-18G goes for $105 million. The F-35 costs $122 million. Even unmanned aircraft are pricy, with the Global Hawk costing $182 million each (with high end sensors). Older fighters, like the F-16, cost $60 million, and an F-15E goes for about $100 million. The price of the export EA-18G hasn't set yet, but it will probably be under $100 million.
As to what the EA-18Gs are doing in Iraq, it might have something to do with Iran. For example, an EA-18G is alleged to have "virtually" shot down an F-22 in a training exercise. Now, normally, this would be a big deal, because the F-22 is stealthy, highly maneuverable and the top fighter in the world. The EA-18G is based on the F-18G, a pretty potent aircraft, introduced a decade ago, and generally considered somewhat better than the F-15. But on paper, the F-22 should be able to make short work of an F-18E, or any F-15.
What was implied by all this was that the EA-18G used some combination of the many electronic warfare devices it carries, to help get the drop on an F-22. Whether this is true, or not (and is just an intel misdirection scam to confuse potential enemies), it does get people wondering about what kind of electronic warfare gear would put an F-22 at a disadvantage in a fight. Anything is possible, given the large number of electronic warfare devices carried on an EA-18G, but what is definitely probable are efforts to keep potential enemies confused, or distracted, when it comes to exactly what an EA-18G can do, with or without an F-22 in the neighborhood.