Australians Taking Advantage of Lessons Learned with New Growler
ST. LOUIS, Mo. —Boeing and the U.S. Navy presented the first EA-18G Growler tactical jamming and electronic protection aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force at a rollout ceremony in St. Louis, Missouri, July 29.
In June 2014, the RAAF awarded Boeing the contract for 12 Growlers to be purchased under a foreign military sales agreement. The ceremony marked the presentation of the first Growler to Australia, the only foreign country to acquire the aircraft so far. The Growler is a derivative of the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
The Australian Growler has some features not on the U.S. version. It has an advanced targeting forward-looking infrared, ATFLIR, to assist in locating targets, as well as AIM-9X, the current version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder, a family of infrared-tracking short-range air-to-air missiles.
Those additions were placed on the aircraft as a result of lessons learned in the 2011 multi-state operation in Libya to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, officials said. The resolution called for a cease-fire in Libya, tightened sanctions on the Gadhafi regime and imposed a no-fly zone in the country’s airspace.
“One of the things you’ll see on the airplane is we’ve actually got it fitted with an ATFLIR and AIM-9X,” said former Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Geoffrey Brown. “Because of the close relationship between Australia and the U.S., we always share lessons, and one of the big lessons out of Libya was the need to actually have an electro-optical part on the Growler.”
There were two main lessons the Australian Air Force was able to take away from Libya, said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, program executive officer for tactical aircraft. The first lesson was how to shorten the kill chain from locating a target to taking that target out, he said.
The U.S. Navy used a combination of targeting and information sharing technologies on its Growlers in Libya to find threats and transmit to that data to other aircraft such as an F/A-18 Super Hornet. The technologies they used to complete this task are ALQ-210, a passive radar detector, active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), multifunctional information distribution (MIDS) and data link, Link 16.
They were “rapidly transmitting weapon quality tracks to other airplanes and the other airplanes were taking the data link tracks and slewing their sensors to the targets that the Growlers had found and dropping ordnance on those targets,” Gaddis said.
By placing ATFLIR straight on their aircraft, the Australians are “decreasing the kill chain even more because you don’t have to data link through another ATFLIR. You’ve got it on your own airplane. It’s all electronic attack, air-to-ground-related,” he added.
Brown said he thinks the U.S. Navy will follow the Australian Air Force’s lead, and reconfigure its Growlers with that technology as well.
Another lesson that the Australian Air Force learned from the United States operation in Libya was how to rapidly plan a mission when moving from one theater to another, he said.
“We had a squadron of Growlers in the Iraqi theater, and when the Libya operations went down we redeployed the entire squadron within two days. Within two days they had moved from Iraq, they had moved to their bases in Italy, they’d already done the mission planning, and they were already on station helping with the operational plan,” Gaddis said. They are also currently gleaning lessons learned from Syria and Iraq, he noted.
He said the Australians wanted to add the AIM-9X to enhance its warfighting capability, whereas the U.S. Navy might not require that addition because it has more aircraft in its fleet. RAAF is purchasing 12 Growlers compared to the U.S. Navy, which currently has 115 of the aircraft in its fleet out of 153 that will be delivered, including the 15 funded in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
However, “with the F-35, the Super Hornet and the Growler, they’re going to have a pretty potent air force” Gaddis said. RAAF boasts 24 Super Hornets in its current fleet.
“The Royal Australian Air Force is starting to look like the United States Navy,” he said.
Brown said having aircraft that operate in a similar manner is good for interoperability. “It makes it far easier to make all our capabilities operate together and it gives access to the best technology in the world.”
He noted that the program has cost more than $3 billion Australian dollars ($2.2 billion U.S. dollars) but is a critical capability as the military faces more hostile air spaces with increased proliferation of surface-to-air missile systems and defensive systems that make it harder for fighter aircraft and transporter airplanes to enter enemy air space.
The Growler will fly to Naval Air Station China Lake, California, for flight testing and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, where Australian operators will continue training with U.S. Navy pilots. RAAF is expected to take delivery of the aircraft in-country in 2017, according to a Boeing press release.