The first Boeing EA-18G Growler for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was rolled out on Wednesday 29 July by Boeing and the US Navy. Australia has twelve of the electronic warfare aircraft on order under a foreign military sales agreement with the US Navy, and is the second country to operate the type following the US.
The Growler will fly to Naval Air Station (NAS) China Lake, California, for flight testing. It is then expected to head for NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, for training purposes. RAAF electronic warfare operators will train with US Navy pilots to gain expertise in the highly technical electronic warfare mission. The RAAF is expected to take delivery of the aircraft in-country in 2017.
The Growler is derivative of the F/A-18 Super Hornet and according toe Boeing, is the only aircraft in production providing tactical jamming and electronic protection. Australia already operates a fleet of older F/A-18A and B Hornets, plus 24 newer F/A-18F Super Hornets.
“The Growlers will complement our existing and future air combat capability, and we will be much more lethal,” said Air Marshal Geoff Brown, former chief of the RAAF. “In many respects, it’s the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the RAAF.” Australia is working to reshape the RAAF into an integrated, networked force able to deliver air power in all operating environments. The project is named Plan Jericho.
The United States Navy is seeking possibilities to acquire 22 additional Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and thus keeping the Super Hornet production line open for additional years.
By adding additional electronic warfare aircraft to the existing squadron the Navy tucks itself in for possible attrition losses or future demands. With the current Super Hornet / Growler production line under threat of closing down, it might be a way to either keep the line open and/or to build up margins – in other words: to prevent a lack of assets in the future.
The first operational EA-18G Growler, a derivative of the F/A-18E/F SuperHornet, was delivered to the the US Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state on 4 June 2008. At that time five EA-18Gs were already flying as test aircraft within the Navy. The Growlers are the successor of the EA-6B Prowler, which has been in service since 1971. The EA-18G combat debut was in 2011, enforcing a UN mandated no-fly zone over Libya dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn.
It might still be a few years before the electronic whizkids of the Royal Australian Air Force can growl for real at home, but the first Aussie pilot instructor is already flying the plane.
RAAF Flight Lieutenant Sean Rutledge has begun training with the Electronic Attack Wing of the US Pacific Fleet at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the beginning of November. Rutledge will then instruct other RAAF aircrew that will be training to take the new Boeing 12 EA-18G Growlers into the blue yonder down under. Rutledge is a former F-111 (3 years) and F/A-18F Super Hornet (3 years) pilot and called RAAF Base Amberly in Queensland his work spot before he was sent to the States.
RAAF’s Wing Commander Paul Jarvis, who is deputy director of the Growler Transition team, sees it like this: “Training with US air wing is essential to our ability to establish a credible airborne electronic attack capability. We’ve started early as there is an awful lot to learn between now and when we begin flying our own EA-18Gs in 2017.”
Indeed a source within the RAAF recently said to international journalists that the RAAF might actually not only begin flying the Growlers in 2017, it might actually begin flying them ALL in that year.
That’s why over the next three years, six RAAF crews of pilot and electronic warfare officers (the ‘backseaters’) (comprised one pilot and one electronic warfare officer) will learn to fly EA-18G Growler with the US Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron 129, with assistance from the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland.
The EA-18G Growler is an electronic warfare variant of the Super Hornet that has the ability to disrupt or jam a range of military electronics systems, including radars and communications systems. The main task is to protect the Australian forces by providing the ability to deny or disrupt an adversary’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum and hence, their electronic systems. The 12 EA-18Gs Australia is procuring for US$1.5 billion will be flying from RAAF Base Amberly. They will form the core of the RAAF aerial strike force, together with the F/A-18F and F-35A Lightning II.
The Australian military plans to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the Growlers in 2018.