Super Hornet & Growler – Smartest buys?

New generation aircraft types typically attract controversy, as problems arising during the manufacturing and operational development phases have to be rectified, often at high cost, which ultimately drives up the price per unit cost. Fortunately, this has not been the case with the F/A-18F Super Hornet and the recently acquired EA-18G Growler Electronic Warfare variant of the Super Hornet, which could prove to be Australia’s smartest military acquisitions.

The acquisition of these essentially ‘off the shelf’ acquisitions prove the good sense in Australia not buying into unproven, untested, ‘off the drawing board’ military platforms.

The first of Australia’s EA-18G Growlers will arrive in Australia this month, and the plan is for a pair to be on display at the Australian International Air Show at Avalon. With their arrival, Air Force will have for the first time in its history, a force-level Electronic Warfare capability – something that no other air force worldwide, outside the US Navy and US Marine Corps, is able to field.

The Growler shares a common airframe with the F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter, acquired by the RAAF in 2009 as a bridging air combat strategy, but now retained as a frontline combat fighter. The two Super Hornet variants will operate together as an important force asset on the Order of Battle until at least 2030.

The combination of a strike fighter in the Super Hornet and an electronic warfare platform in the Growler means that Growler can detect, identify and jam ground based radars – and take them out with a missile attack if necessary – allowing the Super Hornet to conduct air strikes in a lower threat environment.

For the Super Hornet, far from it being an interim capability, although widely criticised in some quarters, the type will be at the cutting edge of Australian air power capability until around the end of 2021, when the first operational F-35A Joint Strike Fighter squadron is expected to achieve Initial Operational Capability.

Therefore, the Super Hornet and Growler acquisitions, arguably represent the smartest decisions Defence has made in recent times, in terms of air combat types.

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