McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

May 21, 2014

Congress faces risky decision on National Security, local aerospace jobs

When you’re in the middle of errands and your fuel gauge hits the red zone, what do you do? Skip the gas station and try to make it back home on ‘E’? Even if you make it home, what will you do the next time you need to drive your car? It’s not worth the ten minutes saved. Who wants to be stranded on the side of the road, forced to walk to the nearest filling station or wait for a tow?

Policy-makers in Washington are facing a similar decision about the Navy’s fleet of electronic attack aircraft, known as the EA-18G Growler. The Navy needs more of these aircraft, but the Pentagon didn’t include any more in next year’s budget. If Congress fails to purchase more now, supply of these aircraft will hit ‘E’ – the manufacturing line will shut down before it delivers the number of Growlers the Navy and Joint Forces need to deal with emerging security threats. One need only read the headlines regarding world events to know we live in a world where we must defend our national security and support those who would seek to live in a democratic society. The Growler is a critical component of the U.S. defensive capabilities.

Closing this production line would be bad news for my Stillwater-based company, Frontier Electronic Systems, which designed and now manufactures the engine fuel displays for this aircraft. Our highly-skilled work force continues to innovate to ensure our warfighters have the latest capabilities. In fact, we’re currently designing a next generation engine fuel cockpit display that accommodates technology advancements and alleviates obsolescence issues. FES pulls from our local engineering and technology talent pools, leveraging the excellent engineering disciplines taught at Oklahoma State University and the specialized technology skills taught at the Career Tech centers — we’re keeping science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers right here in our state.

At a national level, shutting down the Growler production line would leave the Pentagon with only one prime contractor for building fighter jets. We all know that competition is the key to getting the very best capabilities for the best price. As a taxpayer, I want to see competition in the marketplace. It would be disastrous for us to throw away the benefits of competition for one of our most critical defense assets.

Most importantly, prematurely ending this program goes against sound military strategy. Just like you know you’ll need gas in your car tomorrow, the U.S. military will need more Growlers in the coming decades to jam enemy radar and sensors that are becoming much more powerful as computing power increases. A stealthy aircraft used to be capable of hiding from a single radar. But today, lightning fast broadband networks are linking together numerous sensors and radar that can triangulate the location of even the stealthiest aircraft using powerful computers doing super-fast calculations.

This is where the strategic significance of the Growler becomes critical. The Growler fights back by jamming those sensors, effectively creating a data white-out that conceals American aircraft. Escorted by a Growler, American aircraft can slip across enemy lines and complete their missions without fear of being shot out of the sky by surface-to-air missiles. We need this electronic attack capability now more than ever because nearly every country is networking their sensors and radar to be able to detect stealth aircraft. Rather than try to match us in air-to-air combat, our enemies will simply try to deny American jets access to their airspace.

That’s why Growlers are must-have escorts for nearly every risky mission. They’re among the most requested aircraft in our fleet. And America is at the cutting edge of this technology, being the only country to have integrated electronic attack into the airframe of a supersonic fighter jet capable of escorting even the fastest jets in the world.

If we need Growlers now and for the future, why let supply of them run to ‘E’? From a national security perspective, this obviously doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make fiscal sense either: it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to restart the mothballed Growler production line if the Pentagon realizes it made a mistake by closing it. That would waste taxpayer dollars instead of saving them.

Just like our engineers designed engine fuel displays to warn Growler pilots when they’re running low, we’re doing everything we can to alert taxpayers and our elected officials about the dangers of shutting down the critical Growler program. Congress shouldn’t try to run our national security on ‘E.’ It should fully fund the Growler aircraft that the Navy needs.

Brenda Rolls is the President and CEO of Frontier Electronic Systems, based in

Stillwater.

 

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