RAAF to go Growler

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 23, 2012
An artist’s rendition of the EA-18G Growler. (Department of Defence)

The federal government will go ahead with the conversion of 12 of Australia’s 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets into EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.

The decision, announced today, will see Australia become the only country besides the United States to operate Growlers, a specialised variant of the Super Hornet. The Growler capability includes advanced jamming systems aimed at aircraft and land-based radars as well as enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors.

The RAAF’s Growlers are expected to be available for operations from 2018, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare said in a joint statement today.

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The government purchased 12 Super Hornets pre-wired for Growler conversion in 2009 at an additional cost of $35 million, and included the capacity to acquire the Growler kits in the May 2012 budget.

The estimated $1.5 billion purchase, which will be made through the US Foreign Military Sales program, will include conversion kits, supporting equipment and systems, spare parts, training and initial training systems.

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31 Comments

  • Harvie

    says:

    So if we are receiving these in 2018 when are we receiving the F-35’s ??? This appears a very interesting delivery date for an aeroplane we are planning to have for 10 years from 2011 to cover a capability gap.

  • Greg

    says:

    Harvie, Growlers won’t covering a capability gap, they will introduce capabilities the RAAF has never had and won’t have with the F-35 alone.

  • Sam

    says:

    Seemed like an inevitable move. What I cant work out is why is it costing so much? according to wiki (accuracy?) the flyaway cost of a growler is $68.2m. x12= roughly $800m. It also makes note that the conversion will cost $300m; so where is the extra $700-1200m going?

  • Raymond

    says:

    Great, just what the RAAF needs – this new capability will make a huge difference and really give the RAAF an edge and a true force multiplier. Together with the F-35 JSF, Wedgetail AEW&C and KC-30 MRTT this will be one awesome Air Force.

  • Kingsley

    says:

    I think this is great but I wonder what will become of the 12 F/A-18F which are not converted to E/A-19G’s.

  • Dane

    says:

    We just need more numbers of everything and B model JSFs for firepower projection. Hopefully the government of the the future will see how good the Growler is and order more.

  • Air Observer

    says:

    Great decision. A no brainer. As far as i’m aware Sam, the pricing matches Australia’s preference for transparent pricing (which is a good thing!) In many other nations the public are told lower prices for defence deals and are oblivious to other costs such as fixing the things (or training new people to fix them), parts, etc.

  • B. Harrison

    says:

    While the addition of this capability is welcomed for the RAAF, like previous contributors, the numbers are simply not there. The purchase of only 5 x AAR, 6 x C-17’s and 6 x Early-Warning aircraft together with the planned procurement of only 8 P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to replace the 18 P3C orions gives us capablity but not the capacity to deal with anything but a support role in a conflict that we face. If Australians want a more robust air, naval and ground force they must face up to the realisation that having token capability with a handful of aircraft or submarines does not make a defence force.

  • Michael

    says:

    Whilst these will 12 frames be converted to EA18G config, they will not be soley used for that purpose. They can still do everything that a standard F does, it will just have some extras that are role specific. It will take a bit of effort with respect to change of configs, but it will be a true multi role. We as an Air Force cannot afford to have 12 dedicated Gs, thay will have to be utilised fo other roles too.

  • Blind Monkey

    says:

    @Air Observer. Agree.

    I’m not certain why these weren’t ordered off the production line in the first place rather than incurring the on-costs associated with retrofitting. I’m still wondering if the ADF will end up with some F35B variants of the JSF given the RAN has LHDs on order c/w ski jumps? This makes sense to me as Australia has no credible ability to project air power beyond the range of land based aircraft, and only rotary wing assets to provide air support for an Army expeditionary force. Might have been handy during the Solomon Island campaign.

    The alternative is Australia becomes/remains like New Zealand. i.e. Totally dependent on the US for such support, which is ironic when one considers it was an anti US NZ Labour Party PM (Helen Clarke) that affectively defanged the RNZAF making it even more dependent on Australian and US defence support.

  • Dee Thom

    says:

    An interesting “White Paper” doing the rounds in Canberra suggests that the LOW SPEND of the Labor Party could lead to the R.A.A.F. purchasing a further 60 Super Hornets, and forsaking the F-35’s for the future. It also says that with this quantity of Supers plus all the new platforms on hand, Australia will be better equipped for any local conflict . They also say we do not need 12 Subs built in S.A. instead purchase 6 “Off the shelf” craft at a saving of 8 Billion, and that’s a no brainer !!!!
    Check the weekend Australian on line; Defence section.

  • Mathew

    says:

    This is all well and good, but the Growler will have a much longer range then the JSF.
    The RAAF should have looked at the F15 Silent Eagle or even the Russian Su-35, which would open the door to the Sukhoi-PAK stealth fighter (which will be arguably more capable then the F-35)
    The Su-35 systems are compatible with Western systems and Sukhio have even stated that the hard points can be modified for western arsenals.
    Besides the Su-35 has a version that is a perfect replacement for the F-111, being the Su-34 strike aircraft.
    In the modern world i think its time to think outside the box

  • Tim Cheney

    says:

    Michael.
    Although they (the EA-18G) can do everything that the F/A-18F can do ie: air to surface and air to air. They will lose the gun completely and they will not be able to be converted back to the F/A-18F+ set up because to the electrionics which will be fitted to the aircraft.

    They will be a force multiplier giving the RAAF a unqiue aircraft they have never had before.

  • DB

    says:

    Look a the way that this opens capability. You won’t operate them instead of an F-35 but when the tactical picture changes or to cover a diversionary strike, classic Hornet or other attack. This allows so many more scenarios. When the US introduces jamming pods into Vietnam or when the RAF used the Dash 10 pod to allow a Vulcan strike at Port Stanley you can see the impact of a sophisticate jamming/deception capability. I wouldn’t want to go in naked in a 4th Gen aircraft!

  • Batta

    says:

    Absolute idiocy!! Everyone involved in this procurement process should be charged with misappropriation of public funds! When we recieve this aircraft, there will be only 2 countries in the world operating penetration jamming aircraft, the United States and Australia (pick the odd one out).
    There are only 5 countries in the world that have an air defence system that requires this type of capability to penetrate, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Syria. Can the governement please tell me which one of these nations we are considering sending our combat aircraft into?? The ongoing costs of maintaining (and updating) this capability will impose yet another strain on our defence budget, for what gain? so that we can assist the United states in their next foreign adventure as these aircraft will NEVER play a role in any independant Australian military operation?
    The F-35 comes with a very capable EW suite that replicates the capabilities of the “wild weasel” type aircraft, a capability that is suited to the type of stand alone SAM systems that the RAAF could conceivably encounter. the F-35 also has some limited “stealth” features that also greatly increases it’s survivability.
    Kingsley asked “what will happen to the remaining 12 F’s”, this is a very good question as they will now only be a training capability for the G models, which is obviously quite a large overkill so they have in effect, almost been made superfluous.
    The $1.5 Billion being wasted on this extra capability for the US could have been spent on numerous other defence capabilities, one being purchasing another 12-14 F/A18E/F aircraft so that we may have actually had a usable and sustainable capability (2 operational squadrons and a training squadron is the minimum required for anything other than airshows and exercises). This would give us one wing of F/A-18s (2 op sqn and 1 trng) and the same of F-35s (unless the Government intends on wasting even more taxpayer funds by purchasing more F-35’s to appease the RAAF head shed who spend way too much time dreaming of being the USAF )

  • Dan

    says:

    I wonder if the RAAF will now keep the F/A 18F and E/A 18G and only order 72 F 35’s?

    Personally i think RAAF should acquire 120 F 35’s and retire Supers in the future.

  • Air Observer

    says:

    I think we may been the first nation outside the US with this capability but will certainly not be the last. nice to see us take the initiative for once.

  • Tim Cheney

    says:

    I would like to the Britain’s Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm have a joint fleet of EA-18G’s as there’s never been a true frontline ECM aircraft in their ranks and the Tornado GR4’s Skyshadows are starting to show their age.

    So the EA-18G along with the NGJ would be a ideal force multiplier for the RAF and FAA.

  • Michael

    says:

    @Tim Cheney
    I know that the gun goes and some other hardware gets permanantly fixed, but unless you can remove the ECM pods, both underwing and wingtip mounted, we have now effectively halved our strike fleet. Unless, of course, there are more Fs in the pipeline.

    Have now read that most of the hardware that will be fitted will be refurb’d units from current USN inventory.

  • Dane

    says:

    @Betta, there may be a mission that would be too risky to send a JSF to conduct and the cheaper Growler might be a better alternative.

  • Batta

    says:

    The ALQ-99 pod (1970’s technology) will be replaced in the US by the NGJ pod around which will be compatibale with both the F/A-18 series and the F-35 around the 2020 timeframe (2 years after the IOC of our G models), so why are we wasting money on these things now?? I can think of numerous other ways for Defence to spend $1.5 Billion (without operating, maintenance and upgrade costs), I am still mystified as to why DMO and the minister cannot.
    If the RAAF buys any more than 3 squadrons of F-35 (2op+1 trng), then we are mortgaging our future security. The F-35 was designed as a bomb truck for the cold war, it has severe limitations in providing Australia with air superiority for the next 40 years. The benefit of keeping the F/A-18F’s in service, or even procuring a few more, is that we will have the opportunity to replace them when an air superiority aircraft becomes available in the late 2020’s, rather than being stuck with the F-35 (which will be overtaken by Russian, Indian and Chinese aircraft capability) until 2050. The US is already investigating replacing both the F/A-18E/F and the F-22 (F/A-XX and F-X), these are the aircraft that we should be looking at as our region will have a vastly different security outlook and capabilities by then.

  • Batta

    says:

    @Dane, the only risky missions would be penetrating enemy airspace that has an IADS, the F-35 EW system and limited stealth is more than capable of operating in any non-integrated air defence environment. Therefore, unless we are going to be independantly (without US support) sending strike packages into China, North Korea, Russia etc. then we have just wasted $1.5 Billion on a capability that we do not need (we would also need to purchase more KC-30 to support a single Sqn sized strike package). Also the Growler and the JSF have very different functions.

    At what point was this capability deemed essential for Australia’s defence? Which one of the past 10 white papers or DCP’s identified the need for this capability?? Oh, that’s right, after we purchased the F/A-18F (sole sourced, without competition), someone in the RAAF hierachy started to think of ways that we could keep the interim airframes, post F-35 purchase, and suggested that we could simply turn them into jammers. That sounds like a very African way to determine defence capabilities, but alarmingly, the way in which an ever increasing number of ADF purchases are being made, whilst genuine requirements are pushed further down the budget list.

    Our past 2 generations of front line fighter (Mirage and Hornet) only conducted a single month long “operation” between them when in 2003, 75Sqn bombed Iraqi huts (a mission that could have been effectively carried out by WW2 Wirraway aircraft). Yet in that same timeframe, almost every other capability in the ADF was effectively utilised, yet here we are again, little Australia with our delusions of grandeur, spending defence dollars on the “icing” when the “cake” is still not solid. I point to the NZDF example of making a realistic assessment and getting rid of their air combat capability and putting the money to where it was needed and would be used.

    Whilst I cannot disagree that the E/A-18G will provide a “Gucci” capability that would have been wonderful 25 years ago if we were a European country, I just cannot see any purpose that this will serve on any independant Australian operations. Also noting that if we required such capability post 2020, that we could simply purchase the NGJ pods for the F-35 at half the cost we are paying for a lesser capability now.

  • Sam

    says:

    Just one point Batta, you made reference to the F-35 being a bomb truck and incapable of air superiority – it is not an air superiority fighter (although it is rated to 9G; which classes it as “super manouvreable”, this is hardly incapable, infact this is an increase on our current capability) and was never intended to be an air superiority fighter. That is the raptor. The F-35 is a “multi-role” fighter, which was the primary reason for it’s selection as an aircraft. A traditional “Air superiority” aircraft would not have the same strike capability. I’m not sure which aircraft you propose we adopt in “the late 2020’s”, given our current global position politically and the fact that the US are highly unlikely to have any new aircraft ready for IOC at that stage, which is assuming US legislation doesn’t prohibit export of any new air superiority fighter as it has with the raptor.

    Sorry for the offtopic comment. I agree it doesn’t seem logical to purchase the growler upgrade given that the NGJ is supposed to make ALQ-99 obsolete only 2 years later. Having said this maybe they aren’t confident with a conversion of the NGJ to the F-35 happening quickly given the problems that the US have ahd with the growler.

  • Batta

    says:

    Sam, the offtopic comment is appreciated (the proposed 100+ F-35 purchase makes the $1.5 Billion wasted here seem almost prudent). I would hope (and have no doubt) that the F-35 is a large increase in capability over the F/A-18A. The “was never intended to be an air superiority fighter” is pretty much my point as to why the F-35 won’t be able to maintain air superiority for the next 40 years, and achieving air superiority against an adversary has been the primary role of an air force for the past 80 years. Once the US had gained air superiority over Iraq in 2003 (from first day, although SEAD missions required for first week), we could have sent Hawks to assist them in destroying the Iraqi huts rather than F/A-18s…..my point being, that once you have air superiority, then you are free to do what you like over the battlefield and this should be the first objective of any successful campaign.

    Australia never requested that the US government give us access to the F-22 and you always get 100% of what you don’t ask for. Both sides of government were happy to trot out the “prohibited for export” line as they were both scared of the F-22 cost, but now the F-35 program cost is starting to make the F-22 look like a bargain!! The fact is that it was a lone US congressman who tacked the “no export of F-22” amendment onto another piece of legislation (a functionality of US politics that never ceases to amaze me). If anyone believes that a direct request to the US secretary of state (and the applicable senator for that matter) could not have had this restriction lifted for Australia to purchase approx 45 F-22’s (during the GFC, at the end of US procurement to maintain both US jobs and production capability for a further 2 years), then I have some real estate to sell them.

    Due to the F-35 being sole sourced without competition (there is that African procurement system again) there was not an F/A-18 replacement project office set up in Russell, from almost day one it was an F-35 procurement office. This has lead to an entire generation of RAAF officers being firmly committed to the F-35 and regularly spruiking the company line that it is “the right aircraft for Australia”….how this came to be written in stone when the F-35 procurement office has never actually assessed or compared (other than at an unclassified desktop “brochure” level) the aircraft and it’s effectiveness against any other platform is a source of complete mystery to me. Now you cannot get any other opinion from anyone within RAAF because they either a. don’t know or b. their career is heavily tied to the F-35.

    Why do we need a “multi role” aircraft? The F-22 could perform every strike sortie that 75Sqn performed in Iraq, and perform it with substantially less potential risk than just about any other platform available. With the F/A-18F in service, why do we need another “jack of all trades, master of none” aircraft? Now we are going to have an ORBAT that features 2 multi-role aircraft, neither of which will be of much use if we are required to, hypothetically, gain air superiority over part of the South China sea for a few weeks in 2030.

    One of the main points in favour of the F-22, in my view, is that it would have provided a deterrence….who would want to try and fight against that aircraft (every Flag exercise bears witness to it’s effectiveness), if you fly against it you die. This is something that the F-35 can never provide as countries in our region are either purchasing it (Singapore) or the potentially superior (in air combat) Russian/Indian and Chinese 5th generation aircraft. Deterrence is something that would have been very handy to have for the coming century as our numerical inferiority will also rapidily be accompanied by the loss of our supposed qualitive edge.

    Deterrence is the first job of any military force and will also save lives and prevent conflict if achieved…..the F-35 will fail to provide any deterrence from the first day it enters service.

    Incidentally, I am firmly opposed to the numbers of F-35s that the RAAF is talking. In todays 24 hour battlefield, more pilots and more maintenance crew is a good starting point to achieve round the clock opewrations, more airframes does not help at all. Also, we lack the support aircraft and capabilites to support more than a single squadron on operations.

  • Batta

    says:

    I actually held out some hope back in 08 that something could be have been done, even at that late stage (a bit naive on my part after the amount of money spent and the number of people/ministers committing to the F-35). You should also be able to find a press conference with Fitzgibbon alongside Gates where Gates actually states that he will go and petition congress IF Australia requests the aircraft. Unfortunately you will not be able to find any further information on the matter past that point, no request from Australia, nothing at all presented to congress, nothing appears in any “Congressional Record” regarding an Australian request.
    I am a bit of a cynic, but if you recall at that time there was quite a bit of noise around the F/A-18F and F-35 purchases and the Labor government wanted to be seen to be performing due dilligence (they even made noises about cancelling the F models and keeping the F-111). But that’s politics, make all the noises, seem to be doing something and then say “sorry, my hands are tied”.
    A shame really as I am yet to meet anyone who has said that they would prefer to fly against an F-22 rather than an F-35.
    Now, what are we actually going to do with 12 Growlers (and the 12 F models for that matter)??

  • Dan

    says:

    I’d lay money on the F35 being a phenomenal aircraft. Judging on what the pilots who’ve flown it say, it would be easy money. History does tend to repeat and the notion that a Skunkworks produced aircraft this far into development being crap is laughable. As for the potential enemy combatants? History also shows us that while they fare well in a game of top trumps, they tend to come unstuck in the face of superior training and tactics.

  • Batta

    says:

    I too would expect the F35 aircraft to provide a capability far in advance of what we have had before, the F35 will be anything but ‘crap’ but is it the best aircraft for what Australia requires? If my father owned a Kingswood and then drove a Commodore he would think it’s the best thing ever….but if he were then to drive a Mercedes???
    History also shows us 1. That sheer numbers can overcome training and tactics, and 2. that even the most primitive of savages can adapt, learn and train to become better and more advanced than their erstwhile masters….. the defenders of Malaya assumed that “little Japanese men with poor eyesight” could never challenge a European power….that didn’t end well for those assuming to have superior tactics and training!

  • Peter

    says:

    Another New Stealth Fighter Unveiled in China I’ve just found out – the Chengdu J-21.

    For more information go to http://www.defense-update.com

  • Craig

    says:

    All very interesting comments and of course everyone has their opinion. Some good points made – the FA/18F and JSF are both multi role aircraft. However I would pretty much put money on us ordering more Supers and less JSF`s considering we purchased the Supers outright and the continuing push back and escalating cost of the JSF. I also have to scratch my head at how 8 P-8 Poseidon can effectively replace the capability of 18 AP-3C Orions, even if some UAV`s are bought. We seem to be cutting it very fine, numbers wise, with our newly acquired/ordered platforms. I mean 10 C-27J replacing 12 larger C-130H, and it`s been well documented that 5 KC-30A is not nearly enough to support any more than a handful of fast jets to a potential target. We are getting some great capability upgrades but I`m a bit concerned we are sacrificing quantity for quality to too great an extent.

  • Craig

    says:

    Hello again all.
    It occurred to me after my last comment that technically the C-27J is replacing the mighty Caribou. The role of the Caribou, as followers of this saga will know, is now being carried out on an interim basis by Beechcraft King Airs.
    I personally flew in a King Air from RAAF Amberley to RAAF Edinburgh when in the RAAF. I also refuelled many a `Bou and never got sick of the wicked sound of those ancient Pratt and Whtineys.
    Sorry, I got off track. I was wrong in my last entry where I said the C-27J was replacing the ‘H’ model Herc. Technically, of course, it`s replacing the Caribou.
    This only serves to highlight my point about numbers, Around 10 Caribou replaced by around 8 smaller King Air.
    10 twin engine prop aircraft doing the job that for 30 years it took 12 four engine Hercules to do . O.K. .

    Footnote: I love the Royal Australian Air Force and proudly served for some 17 years. We are the best Air Force of our size I`m sure of it.

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