Congested.. Contested.. Dynamic.. Battlespace

Australia’s first two EA-18G ‘Growler’ Airborne Electronic Attack aircraft during their delivery flight from the United States. (Defence)

Fighting in the Electromagnetic Spectrum with the EA-18G ‘Growler

The increasing acknowledgement of the Electromagnetic Spectrum as a warfighting domain, similar to Air, Land, Sea or Space, points the way to the future of warfare, where players seek to dominate that space in order to deny, disadvantage or confuse an enemy. Electronic Warfare is not new of course, being first practised on a large scale during the Second World War, but the domain is becoming exponentially more congested, contested and dynamic as more bandwidth is taken up by contemporary communications systems and rapidly-evolving technology can often confer a quick and decisive (if only temporary) advantage.

Against this backdrop, the Royal Australian Air Force’s Boeing EA-18G Growler Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) capability has been quietly building mass and competency as it works towards Final Operational Capability (FOC) in the 2022 timeframe. Somewhat overshadowed (in the public arena at least) by the arrival of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the Growler nevertheless represents an integral part of the Chief of Air Force’s vision for a 5th generation, networked force and it is a capability which will only increase in importance in years to come. Having an aircraft to perform the airborne electronic attack role is (relatively speaking of course) the easy part. Establishing protocols and pathways which will allow Growler and other ADF Electronic Warfare assets the agility and adaptability to meet rapidly emerging threats is another important dimension, as is the establishment of effective and adaptive training ranges.

Growler Capability The RAAF’s Growler capability roadmap had set the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) milestone for mid-2018 and, although it has not yet been formally announced, Director of Capability at Headquarters Air Command, Group Captain Tim Churchill says all the objectives originally flagged to Government have essentially been met. “What we have in place now is basically what I would call a limited force-level EW capability for peacetime national tasking, or a regional conflict,” he explained.

“We will continue growing the Growler capability and by the mid-2021 timeframe, our goal is to have matured to be able to operate effectively in more-contested conflicts and higher sortie rates, so a much higher tempo. FOC is mid-2022 and our goal there is to achieve the same operational tempo, but with enough capability to split operations across two locations, if required.”

The pathway to FOC is being undertaken in three basic phases, the first between 2012 and 2014 was defined as the capability preparation phase. The second, between 2014 and the end of 2018 was Entry into Service (EIS), which included delivery of all twelve aircraft and the training of an initial number of crews. The third phase, between now and FOC, will be the integration phase, when Growler will be integrated with other ADF assets.

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