Defence Minister Stephen Smith has confirmed the federal government is considering the acquisition of an electronic attack capability through the modification of up to 12 of the RAAF’s Boeing F/A-18F+ Super Hornets.
Speaking to SKY News on October 19, Mr Smith said “we are now starting the process of looking very closely and carefully at whether this is a capability that Australia should acquire.”
The Growler is replacing the EA-6B Prowler in US Navy service and on its first operational tour earlier this year the aircraft saw action over Afghanistan and Libya. When fitted with ALQ-99 jammer pods, the EA-18G has the ability to either ‘close down’ an entire area over a wide electronic spectrum, or alternatively can target specific spectrums such as those used by mobile phone networks or radio bands. Even without the jammers pods, through its comprehensive receiver suite the Growler can impart additional electronic situational awareness via datalinks to other aircraft such as Super and classic Hornets, Wedgetail AEW&C, or even naval vessels.
But the ALQ-99 pod is in high demand and is nearing obsolescence, with a reported nine different pod types required to cover the entire spectrum, of which up to five, but more realistically three can be carried by a Growler at any one time. The ADF is known to be interested in the development of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) pod in the US, which should result in more compact and reconfigurable packaging of the jamming antennae into a single streamlined pod.
Despite 12 of the RAAF’s 24 Super Hornets – the last of which are scheduled to be delivered to Amberley on October 21 – being pre-wired and having other preparatory work done on the production line in anticipation of a possible Growler conversion, the acquisition of the equipment for six complete systems and the associated modification work is believed to exceed $400 million.