By Andrea Shalal
SIMI VALLEY Calif. (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy is looking at possible additional orders of Boeing Co's EA-18G electronic attack planes, or Growlers, as it shapes its fiscal 2016 budget request, the Navy's top uniformed officer said Saturday.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told Reuters the Navy was reviewing its inventory of tactical aircraft, including Growlers and strike fighters, to ensure its electronic attack needs were met.
Congress, responding to an "unfunded priority" list submitted by the Navy earlier this year, is poised to approve orders for 12 more EA-18G Growlers in the fiscal 2015 budget, which will help Boeing extend the production line for the jets in St. Louis through 2017.
The Navy did not request funding for the jets in its 2015 budget, but did add 22 EA-18G jets to its unfunded priorities list.
Greenert did not comment specifically on whether the Navy would request funding for the jets in its fiscal 2016 core budget, or a new unfunded priorities list, but said the Navy's electronic attack capabilities were being evaluated as part of the overall tactical aircraft budget.
"Before we close the books and call it quits on Growlers, we want to make sure we’ve got the electronic attack right," Greenert said in an interview at a defense conference.
No final decisions had been made about potential Growler orders, said one Navy official, noting that the issue would be addressed by the end of the year.
The Navy is wrapping up two weeks of testing of the C-model of the F-35 fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin Corp on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier.
Greenert said the F-35 carrier testing went well, but the Navy's version of the plane still had to complete further tests with software for carrying internal and external weapons. "We've got the heavy lifting to do yet, and that’s the software."
The Navy plans to buy 260 F-35s to replace older model F/A-18C/D Boeing jets for use on aircraft carriers, but they will work together on the warships with newer model F/A-18E/F jets and the EA-18G Growlers.
Lockheed is pressing the Navy to increase its orders of F-35 jets to help increase economic order quantities and drive down the cost of the F-35 C-model, now at around $130 million a copy.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Editing by Andre Grenon and Simon Cameron-Moore)