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Boeing's Growler Takes Aim at Lockheed Martin's F-35

EA-18G. Photo: Northrop Grumman.  

When it comes to attack planes, Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT  ) F-35, a fifth-generation fighter, is supposed to be a technological masterpiece. However, Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) argues that its fourth-generation EA-18G attack plane, aka the "Growler," has the edge when it comes to evolving threats across the electromagnetic spectrum.

In fact, Boeing is using this argument to convince lawmakers to add 22 Growlers to the Defense Department's 2015 fiscal budget. But will it work? If it does, will the added expense take a bite out of the F-35 budget?

The battle begins
Currently, the Defense Departments 2015 budget doesn't included funding for the Growler. More importantly, reports that if the DoD doesn't include funding for the Growler, Boeing may have to shut down its production line in Missouri.

Understandably, Boeing is arguing that it's a mistake not to include funding for its Growlers, because without it, the F-35 will be vulnerable to detection. Additionally, Breaking Defense reports that Navy and Boeing officials believe that without the Growler, the F-35 can't be expected to survive attack missions at the start of a war.

The reason for this, Boeing believes, is that search radars have advanced to the point where stealth is being outpaced. So, while the F-35 is a stealth aircraft, Breaking Defense reports, "Infrared sensors, low and variable frequency radar, and networked radar and other sensor systems built or used by Russia and China make spotting a stealthy aircraft a virtual certainty."

F-35. Photo: Lockheed Martin via Northrop Grumman.

Lockheed fights back
In response to Boeing's attack, Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein, told "The stealth capabilities in the F-35 are unprecedented in military aviation. ... Extensive analysis and flight test of the survivability of the F-35 with its combination of stealth, advanced sensors, data fusion, sophisticated countermeasures, and electronic attack demonstrate conclusively its superior advantages over earlier generation aircraft." In other words, Boeing is wrong according to Lockheed.

Who will win?
What this fight basically boils down to is funding. Thanks to automatic budget cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, defense companies are feeling the pinch. For example, the Pentagon requested $8.3 billion for 34 F-35s. While that's a significant number, it's eight less than the Pentagon planned on. 

The same can be said for Boeing. Right now the 2015 Defense budget doesn't include funding for the Growler. However, Boeing is trying to persuade lawmakers to add around $2 billion for the additional Growlers. If Boeing's efforts work, that money would have to come from somewhere, or something, else in the budget.

What to watch
Reduced government spending isn't great for defense contractors. The good news is, most of Boeing's sales, and backlog, are due to its commercial airline business segment -- and it's doing pretty well. Lockheed, on the other hand, gets a significant amount of its revenue from defense sales -- in 2013, 82% of Lockheed's $45.5 billion in net sales were from the U.S. government -- the same can be said for Lockheed's backlog. Further, considering the F-35 made up 16% of Lockheed's total consolidated net sales in 2013, anything that negatively, or positively, affects this program is something investors should keep close tabs on. Consequently, investors would do well to keep an eye on the debate about the Growler and the F-35.

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 10:45 AM, GeorgeJMyersJr wrote:

    The F-35 appears as a conspiracy of politicians in many states, built in many, by the many. I wonder if it would survive an outside Congressional investigation.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 10:59 AM, hunter3203 wrote:

    The Growler and F-35 are not mutually exclusive. We and our allies need the Growler's jamming capabilities anytime we're entering into contested airspace. The Air Force should actually consider obtaining a couple of squadrons themselves.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 2:19 PM, SenorSlacker wrote:

    Stealth technology only has a 3 to 5 year life span before technology is created to defeat it. The only way to guarantee an aircraft an advantage over an opponent, is to make that aircraft fast and maneuverable. The F35 has neither of these traits. Current F18 and F16 fighters will outfly a F35. The F35 doesn't stand a chance against a F15. So why is our military willing to replace high performance fighters with a mediocre fighter that has stealth technology?

    In the 60's politicians and military leaders thought the days of dog fights were over. So the F4 Phantom was created. A cool looking, but mediocre fighter built around a missile platform that opponents quickly defeated with evasion devices. The F35 is the kissing cousin to the F4.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 3:07 PM, quasimodo007 wrote:

    O god another Greedy corrupt military Anti Union contractors who RIPS OFF the US Taxpayers with huge Cost over runs while the j mc gets a huge Multi millions dollars Bonuses and bigger Tax Free Paid Perks and gets a evil GoP congress Billions dollars Tax break but nothing for the Hourly workers .

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 3:36 PM, GaryLockhart wrote:

    "The Air Force should actually consider obtaining a couple of squadrons themselves." hunter3203

    They have no need since they'll continue relying on VMAQs and VAQs to provide SEAD as they have been since they made the decision to prematurely retire their fleet of EF-111s. Never mind the adverse impact this has on a MEU or CBG in executing their primary missions.

    "Stealth technology only has a 3 to 5 year life span before technology is created to defeat it." SeniorSlacker

    Stealth platforms have always been detectable by low band search radars. A fact that has been known to us in the EW community since before the F-117 was only a design on paper. Following Desert Storm the British announced that the Royal Navy had been tracking F-117s operating out of King Khalid using search radars mounted on vessels sailing in the Persian Gulf. Stealth technology does not make you invisible it only reduces the range at which you can be detected.

    "The only way to guarantee an aircraft an advantage over an opponent, is to make that aircraft fast and maneuverable." SeniorSlacker

    A lot of Tomcat drivers used to show up at Miramar with the same belief. That quickly changed when adversaries in F-5s and A-4s were handing them their lunch on a regular basis. A good pilot in an "inferior" aircraft operating against a neophyte in a "state of the art" aircraft often comes out on top. Technology in and of itself guarantees nothing.

    "So why is our military willing to replace high performance fighters with a mediocre fighter that has stealth technology?" SeniorSlacker

    One wonders how many hours you've logged in the cockpit of any variant of the F-35? I'm betting that the number is zero.

    "A cool looking, but mediocre fighter built around a missile platform that opponents quickly defeated with evasion devices." SeniorSlacker

    The Phantom II has been in service for over 50 years, not bad for a "mediocre fighter". It's very telling that you place all of the blame for the poor kill ratio on the aircraft and none of the blame on the early tactics and problem plagued versions of the Sidewinder and Sparrow. By the way once tactics were changed and Top Gun was established, what became of the Phantom IIs kill ratio?

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 4:30 PM, RHO1953 wrote:

    The F35 appears to be very flawed, and very expensive. I doesn't look as if the best candidate was chosen to me.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 5:07 PM, hunter3203 wrote:

    Gary Lockhart - The Air Force has F-16CJ for the SEAD mission, at least the shooting part. But as you pointed out they retired the EF-111 as a cost savings measure and have had to rely on the Navy ever since for electronic suppression. I still think the Air Force should retain their own capability in that regard. That's why I suggested purchasing EA-18Gs for Air Force use. It would also help keep the production line open in case further international sales come in.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 5:29 PM, jaguar55586640 wrote:

    I think that this possible purchase has to be viewed as a very serious matter for the sake of our country, and should be devoid of politics.

    All I know is in the past we have had good planes to preform this vital mission, and to make a mistake on what we buy now will cost us a lot more in the future in lives and money. If they work as promised, I say buy them!

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 5:54 PM, valuwarrior wrote:

    DoD sources: 138 is the current fleet of Growlers and there is no more requirement. While TRUE, the Growler is a good jammer and needed by the 4th Gen fleets of the AF, Navy and MC--the F-15, F-16, AV-8Bs and F/A-18A-F.-- We do NOT have a valid requirement for any more.

    Fact: They are NOT needed by stealth 5th Gen fighters like the F-22 and the F-35, because 5th Gen fighter jammers are superior to Growlers' jammers. Again, 138 Growlers are plenty and THAT is the real reason they were not in the budget.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 7:08 PM, hunter3203 wrote:

    Valuwarrior - The whole point of stealth is to not be transmitting. When either the F-22 or F-35 is transmitting energy, they can be picked up regardless of their stealth. But you're wrong about those aircraft not needing jamming support. No aircraft is invisible to radar. All stealth does is reduce the range at which the aircraft can be picked up. And that works differently depending on the type of radars involved. That's where the jamming can be so helpful. When other aircraft are jamming the known radars it makes it easier for the stealth aircraft to carry out their missions.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 9:53 PM, rotorhead1871 wrote:

    stealth is not the advantage that is was in gulf 1 and 2....what this calls for is a fly off at the Nellis or the China Lake range.....they need to verify that the new radars being used and currently available.....can or cannot detect the F35 airframe..then they need to run scenarios that allow the growler to jam the radars, to see if significant jamming does indeed generate an increase in F35 radar breakthroughs must also be the electronics will eventually be able to detect a stealth airframe....

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 10:53 PM, bigalf123 wrote:

    I worked on F18 A/C for better than 20 years.It"s a great jet.Easy to maintain ,reliable and a real work horse.The Growler not only would be a good buy because of it's electronic warfare capabilities but also it's easy maintenance and cost . The real problems would be keeping an F35 in the air long enough to benefit from the growlers performance.

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 11:34 PM, wingman4 wrote:

    My last hitch in USAF was working with the final F-4 Wild Weasel Squadron at George AFB, CA. It was a workhorse for the Air Force and did everything that was required of it. It was a sad day in the USAF when they retired the squadron. I worked at Boeing in St. Louis on the F-18 C/D, E/F and G for Growler. It is a great a/c and again it does everything that it is supposed to do. We definitely need a jammer as stealth technology is not keeping up with the new radar technology. Maintenance for the F-18G would be affordable since we already have the F-18 C/D, E/F already in the USN. Save money and have a better aircraft. WIN WIN!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 19, 2014, at 11:49 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    The F-35 was a TREMENDOUS waste of money. It can neither outrun NOR out-maneuver any of its potential adversaries. It does NOT have "unprecedented" stealth capability (it's actually inferior in this regard to the F-22). It's a substandard CAS platform that MAY be an upgrade on the Harrier, but is otherwise woefully inadequate. It sure as hell won't be able to replace the A-10, or even the F-16. It certainly won't be able to do the job of the F-18 (and the Super Hornets aren't able to fill the F-14's long-range interceptor capability. And China's development of long-range anti-shipping missiles is EXACTLY the sort of threat we need a true Tomcat replacement to counter).

    Unfortunately, the military has failed to recognize that they will NEVER be able to design an aircraft that will adequately suit the needs of the Air Force, Navy, AND Marine Corps. In over a CENTURY of American military aviation despite multiple attempts they've managed it precisely ONCE: The F-4 Phantom II. So what we got is a bloated program that sacrificed performance and mission capability in a desperate attempt to squeeze a round airframe into a square mission profile.

    The F-35 is a colossal failure. Simple as that.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 8:53 AM, Grandpastu wrote:

    As long as there are team efforts with respect to radar countermeasures, most any plane can become invisible to almost any radar frequencies. Several types of planes consisting of systems built by BAE systems, Raytheon and other ECM houses, flying together into a hostile zone could enable even an old B-17 to enter and do damage. We don't need the F-35 except to line the pockets of defense contractors, their lobbyists and the corrupt politicians they do business with. As I recall, the F-22 (which I worked on) was touted as the best airplane ever designed and could defeat any present or future threat. This was in the late 70s!

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 9:05 AM, anolesman wrote:

    I was going to go on vacation to Paris but I would much rather spend my money on a F-35, B-17, F22, B-12 or whatever the B's or "F's" they come up with if it is going to protect my "ares" and my Country. I appreciate all these people who worked on these planes, all I ever worked on was a M14.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 10:10 AM, flipmitized wrote:

    It is time for the end game of the F-35, it has too many cost over-runs, still has engine problems, hasn't solved the pilots blackouts, while operating the aircraft, and it costs too damn much for what you get for your buck. A wake-up call for our Congress, the lousy crooks.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 10:44 AM, vet212 wrote:

    With Stealth and on board self protection jammers you really don't need or want a dedicated jammer aircraft, in fact using one can and would be a dead giveaway you were up to something

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 1:53 PM, desertdave47 wrote:

    I work on the F-35 at Edwards Air Force Base. The ITF - Integrated Test Facility and the F-35's radar cross section and it's L.O. capabilities are built into it's design.

    The F-18 was not built from the drawing board for L.O. nor is it's surfaces designed for a low radar cross section. It's skin is not designed to evade radar, this comparison is beyond ridiculous.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 2:01 PM, desertdave47 wrote:

    Can the F-18 land vertically? The F-35 can. Does the F-18 have a low radar cross section? The F-35 does. Does the F-18 have L.O. characteristics? The F-35 does. Does the F-18 have advanced electronic warfare internal jammers? The F-35 does.

    Does the F-18 have advanced 360 degree HUD vision? The F-35 does. Can the F-18 keep it's weapons stored inside reducing it's RCS? The F-35 does.

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 1:11 AM, ronvan wrote:

    UNBELEIVEABLE & UNREAL! The F35 is a never ending gold mine for those that have the contracts! A "one plane that can do everything" is just nuts and those that have supported it should be put in prison! As so many have commented, the F35 cannot even compare with the capabilities of the F15-16-18, other than stealth!

    Just who are these wackos that say the F35 can replace the A-10 for CAS? Talks about replacing the Apache, touted as the "deadliist helicopter on the planet"?

    Putting all your eggs in one basket will lead to disaster! An "integretated" force with aircraft built for specific missions, for me, would be the way to go!

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 1:24 AM, ronvan wrote:

    FOR DESERTDAVE47: While your comments on the F-35 are correct I would ask you this: Can the F-35 deliver or equal the devastating power of the A-10? NO!

    Does the F-35 outperform the F-15-16-18s? NO! Does the F-35 have a gun? NO!

    Does the F-35 have as much "time on station" as the other mentioned aircraft? NO!

    The "vertical takeoff"? I had the opportunity, while in the Army, to attend an Air-Ground Operations Course with member nations. While talking with a British pilot about the Harrier his comment was "a good aircraft but when you used its vertical takeoff the first thing to do was find a refuling tanker"? And, as so many have commented, if "stealth" is detectable then what is the point?

  • Report this Comment On April 21, 2014, at 7:57 AM, rav55 wrote:

    And the Pentagon also wants to use the F-35 as a close support aircraft. The current role of the A-10 Warthog. Yeah right.

    The F-35 is a waste of money.

  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2014, at 9:09 AM, valuwarrior wrote:

    @ronvan: A combat-configured F-35 will kill 4 x combat-configured F-15/F-16/FA-18EFG every single time. Outperform? Yes, as in kill them far BVR, close BVR, out perform them in EA/ EP and combat radius.

    @rav55: The F-35 can do CAS just as well as A-10 and do it faster without getting the pilot killed. That is outperforming. 80% of CAS in OEF/OIF was from a/c other than the A-10. While we should keep all A-10s and F-16s until they're replaced by F-35, its time to replace them all with the much more survivable, lethal F-35.

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Katie Spence

Katie Spence has been a financial journalist for The Fool since 2011. She specializes in defense companies, “green" technology, autos, and robots. Follow her on Twitter for breaking news in the defense, auto, and robot industry.

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