EA-18G Growler – Australia’s emerging AEA capability
Standing up a new and complex capability for the first time is no easy task, but in the case of the EA-18G Growler’s Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) capability now being introduced into RAAF service, decades of US Navy and US Marine Corps experience have gone before. Without previous experience in AEA, the RAAF has embarked on an intensive programme to train air and ground crews, and to build up operational experience in the United States, before migrating the capability back to Australia in 2017.
The first RAAF Growler rolled out of the Boeing factory in St Louis at the end of July, marking an important milestone in Australia’s emerging capability which, once in a mature state, will be the only tactical AEA capability resident outside the United States.
Recently-retired Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown says the introduction of the Growler is in many respects the final element in transforming the Air Force into a full-spectrum force.
“The Growler capability will have one of the most significant effects on the Air Force since the introduction of the F-111 in the early 1970s,” he said.
“It is an extremely important milestone in the development of the RAAF, the ability to shut down surface to air missiles or other electronic emissions across the battlespace is a truly unique capability.
“The Growlers will complement our existing and future air combat capability and we will be much more lethal with this Airborne Electronic Attack Capability. We will always pursue a technical edge over a regional competitor.”
Growlers for Australia
Australia became the first, and so far only, export customer for the Boeing EA-18G Growler in May 2013, when then-Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced that 12 new-build aircraft would be purchased. Until then it had been planned to convert a number of the RAAF’s F/A-18F Super Hornets to Growler configuration, taking advantage of the fact that the final 12 of the 24 Super Hornets had been pre-wired during assembly to permit conversion at some point in the future. The decision to buy new-build Growlers enabled the RAAF to retain a significant air combat capability with 24 Super Hornets.
The first Growler made its maiden flight in St Louis on July 13, followed eleven days later by the second aircraft. Both aircraft will initially be used by the US Navy to test and certify some Australia-specific software and other changes to the baseline aircraft, which have been the result of US operational experience in Middle East and Libya.
The remaining ten aircraft are at different stages on the production line and will be placed into short-term storage after completion, until RAAF training in the United States reaches a critical mass so that the aircraft are ferried home to Australia in early 2017.