Their US counterparts were responsible for blinding the Gaddafi regime in Libya, and now Australia’s formidable EA-18G Growlers are nearing initial operating capability (IOC), which will provide the RAAF with next-generation electronic attack capability in the coming months.
Based on F/A-18E/F Super Hornet variant of the wildly successful Boeing Hornet, the EA-18G Growler has proven itself to be an invaluable asset to the US when deployed overseas. As the only nation besides the US to fly the Growler, Australia has developed unique training procedures in conjunction with US Navy partners to fully utilise the capabilities of the aircraft.
Initially purchased alongside the more traditional Super Hornet variants to supplement Australia's ageing fleet of classic Hornets and the diminished strike capability following the retirement of the F-111s, prior to the full integration of the Air Force's 72 planned F-35s, IOC is expected to be delivered to the RAAF in the coming months.
Australia's Growlers were part of a larger US Navy buy of 44 Super Hornets and Growlers in July 2014, with the first Australian EA-18G making it's first flight in July 2015. All 12 of Australia's Growlers were formally welcomed to their home base at RAAF Amberley in 2017, providing air crews and pilots the opportunity to build familiarity and an understanding of the aircraft and it's unique capabilities.
The Growler's electronic attack capabilities act as a major force multiplying platform, which act to disrupt all services and equipment that operate along the increasingly congested electromagnetic spectrum, meaning complex communications networks, such as mobile phone and wireless internet services, are effectively decapitated during conflict, preventing the enemy from communicating efficiently and effectively.
The partnership between the US Navy and the RAAF has been instrumental in insuring that Australia's Growler pilots, crew and the capability of the aircraft is maximised, particularly as Australia is essentially building the electronic attack capability from the ground up. This has meant that Australian pilots and aircrews are undergoing extensive familiarisation and training programs with US Navy counterparts prior to additional training in Australia in order to incorporate the capabilities of the aircraft into the wider RAAF and ADF.
For Australia, airborne electronic attack capability provides the nation with an invaluable tool and strategic edge over major competitors. Providing a reliable, well tested and known capability package, the aircraft is well suited to the nation's requirements.
Electronic attack capabilities are constantly evolving and, accordingly, RAAF intends to stay in line with the US Navy as it upgrades its own Growler fleet. Apart from the Next Generation Jammer, the US Navy’s larger Growler Block II spiral upgrade program will add numerous other enhancements that mirror those of the Super Hornet Block III.
This means the capabilities of Australia's Growlers will continue to evolve with their US counterparts, ensuring that Australia can bring valuable contributions to coalition operations.
It is expected that once IOC has been achieved, the Growlers of 6 Squadron RAAF will be capable of providing limited, force-level electronic warfare. This means that until final operating capability (FOC) is achieved, the aircraft will be largely limited to peacetime operations or responding to regional contingencies as needed.
Reaching FOC will require additional testing and broader integration with key ADF assets, particularly the Navy's new Air Warfare Destroyers, Air Force's E-7 Wedgetail AEWC aircraft and later F-35s and key ground assets of the Army to ensure that the ADF is developed into a full-spectrum, integrated force.
FOC for Australia's Growlers is expected in 2022.