australian aviation logo

White Paper to confirm 12 Growlers, 100 F-35s – report

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 2, 2013

An artist's rendition of the EA-18G Growler. (Department of Defence)

The Defence White Paper, due to be released on Friday, will confirm Australia will acquire 12 new build Boeing EA-18G Growlers but reaffirm the government’s commitment to an ultimate fleet of 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, news wire service Reuters has reported.

According to the report, citing unnamed “defence sources and analysts”, the government’s faith in the F-35 has been re-kindled, and so plans to acquire 12 Growlers and 12 Super Hornets to supplement the 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets currently in service have been scaled back to 12 new build Growler electronic attack jets.

Reports Reuters: “Australia had planned to retrofit a dozen Super Hornets with the electronic attack capabilities, but has now decided to buy new Growlers, said two sources who were not authorised to speak on the record.”

It is expected that acquiring new build Growlers, rather than converting existing F/A-18Fs, will allow the RAAF to better manage the transition better the classic Hornet and F-35 as existing Super Hornets won’t have to be taken offline for an extensive and time consuming modification process.

To date the government has committed to an initial batch of 14 F-35s, two of which have been contracted for and are now under assembly with Lockheed Martin.

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member today!

Comments (20)

  • Michael


    Probably the best decision to ever come out of this government. Great to see they aren’t sacrificing future capability just to save a few bucks.
    Perhaps they’ve finally realised the budget surplus ship has sailed and their days are numbered.

  • Mr Sensible


    In case you’ve missed the big news over the last two days;
    Negative Gearing now costs the taxpayer $18 billion per annum and has been increasing at 15% per annum.

    Which is over a million very affluent “welfare dependent” property investors being heavily subsidised by lower and middle class taxpayers

    There’s a simple way to save a lot of bucks without decimating the armed forces

  • Darren


    This raises some questions.

    Firstly why not buy 12 F/A-18F’s and rework the aircraft we already paid to be prewired for this option? Or is it too expensive to modify, thus get cheaper new builds and write off the money spent? Just trying to find out if limited budgets are being spent wisely.

    Secondly where does this leave the transition process? Are we to delay F-35A’s into service with this new Super Hornet/Growler plan? Will this spread the buy of F-35’s over a longer term to have the last batch replace the current Superhornets? Or are we to buy 100 F-35’s and retain the Superhornrt fleet? This I doubt.

    As always the detail and future goverments (of either political side) will reveal the full story yet to be written.

  • The Mechanic


    100 dead ducks ( 4.75 stealth with a weapons bay, and thats a fact ) at a now reported $150 million per plane plus a weapons program ? You cotta be kidding . Canada sunk this program . It is gone , dead and buried . The Super Hornet ( $69M per plane , 4.5 stealth , as they are , with upgrades coming , to make them 4.75 stealth , and now a Canadian Govt preferred favorite ) is one of the Worlds most able and ” affordable” reliable and lethal planes now flying . The US Navy just loves them . Long time . One of the most lethal war planes on the entire Planet . And with the now access to the Growler tech , one of the very best . Fix the budget . All we as a Nation need is a paltry 35 JSFs , with 24 being the VTOL versions for our up coming 2 HLS ships . That’s it . Pilots less drones are the future . Get use to it . Don’t invest in Yesterdays tech .Too expensive for the still thinking taxpayer . It all sounds a bit like a teen being sold the latest Ipod . And realizing that they still really like vinyl records and all they want is a flat screen TV and a turntable instead .

  • John N


    According to a report in The Australian this morning, there were still last minute talks going on last last night between Def Min Smith and the Military over cuts to Defence.

    There was speculation that there still could be 24 Super Hornets purchased (including the 12 Growlers).

    The article also hinted that if the full purchase of 24 does go ahead then most likely the F35 order will probably be cut down from 100 to around 70.

    Anyway, just have to wait a few more hours till the White Paper is released before we all know for sure that the composition of the RAAF is likely to be.



  • Ben


    F-35 = the worst thing for my RAAF.

    Unproven. A single aircraft fleet is a great idea, but maybe SH would be the better move.

  • Raymond


    … and AA – thanks for introducing moderation to this forum, rather than having to just close it off once malicious comments are added; that way, troublemakers now cannot spoil it for everyone else.

  • Observer


    Question does the wiring in the existing F-18F+ now just get left in the aircraft or will it be ripped out? Just thinking that performance and range issues are already making a slight dent in the aircraft that were assigned to the conversion, so will RAAF just put up with that until Steroid Hornets are replaced ?

    Intresting that the White Paper states that the decision will be made when Steriod Hornets are retired that a decision will be made to buy more JSF’s, thought a new platform would be available by then. And the RAAF wouldn’t want a old and new airframe fleet of single aircraft… Much like the 2x C-130J or a extra C-17 decision taken.

  • Air Observer


    Good decision.A no brainer.

  • Foo


    Will we retire a number of airframes or increase our airframes to 107 and power on, the increase cost may be a burden to the budget but who cares the Labour govt will be gone soon and we can spend our tax $ dollars on one more c17 and few more tankers with the jsf we will be looking real nice in years to come

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    Just to clarify, the 12 F/A-18Fs don’t have any extra “wiring”, its just that their wiring harnesses have exta capacity, there are bigger and additional wiring conduits in the aircraft, and extra avionics racks in the forward fuselage. If not converted, they are essentially full-spec Super Hornets.

    From a capability and more importantly, capacity viewpoint, 12 new builds is far more sensible than converting the 12 F+s.

    Look for an article detailing this in the June issue of AA.


  • John N


    Overall a good decision, finally some clarity for the direction the RAAF is heading in.

    The new White Paper, from a RAAF perspective, means that:

    * The 72 F-35A’s, three operational and one conversion sqn, that were already approved in the Defence Capability Plan (DCP) will proceed.

    * The 24 F/A-18F’s will continue in the ‘bridging’ role for around 20 years rather than the original 10 years and allow a smoother transition to the F-35A.

    * The 12 new build Growlers will mean that the disruption, fleet reduction and conversion of the 12F+ to Growlers has been avoided.

    *And it also confirms what the Auditor General report stated last year, that the 71 remaining Classics will make it through to 2020-22 if their fatigue and airframe life is managed property, which the RAAF appears to be quiet good at managing (interesting to see the eventual cost of this).

    The questions is when and how will all this be achieved? In a few weeks the Federal Budget will be delivered and hopefully also the next update/versions of the DCP and DCG to show the timing of the White Paper decisions.

    The logical steps should be:

    * Proceed with the order for the 12 new build Growlers, if this does happen, it could mean they start coming into service 3-4 years from now, depending on if the USN gives up some production slots as they did before with the Super Hornets, or we may have to wait a bit longer if they are added to the end of the current USN production run.

    * Re-confirm that the next batch of 12 F-35A’s, already approved, will be ordered in 2014 as planned in last years Budget.

    * Hopefully a time table for the ordering of the next 60 F-35A’s to achieve the early 2020’s time frame for introduction to service.

    The next question is basing, manpower and squadron structures for the introduction of an additional sqn of Growlers and the eventual transition from Classics to F35A’s.

    The ‘original’ plan (pre Super Hornet purchase and later Growler decision) was to reduce the 6 Sqns (Classics – 3 operational + 1 OCU) and (F111 – 1 operational + 1 OCU) down to a total of 5 Sqns of F35A’s, 4 operational + 1 OCU.

    For a period of time later this decade and into the 2020’s there will be FOUR different types of fast jets for the RAAF to maintain and operate during this introduction and transition, eg, Classics, Supers, Growlers and F35A’s, in both ‘operational’ sqn’s and ‘training’ sqn’s, that’s going to be an expensive and complex process to see through.

    Where do they start and where do they end in that process? Could it look something like this:

    * Leave the SHornets at Amberley (1 operational and 1 OCU sqn).

    * The new Growlers, maybe at Amberley for basic ‘flight’ training of the aircraft by the Shornet OCU and possibly some aircraft and certainly the aircrews would probably have their AEA training done in the US by the USN, or maybe base at Williamstown to work more closely with the E7A Wedgetails and the F35’s as they are introduced.

    * This leaves the Classics, as the decade progresses and the most worn airframes are removed from service, maybe leave the NT based Classic sqn till last, retire one of the 2 operation Classic sqn’s at Williamstown to allow the aircrews and ground crews to go to the US to train on the first F35 sqn before they return and then repeat with the remaining Classic OCU and 2 operational sqn’s.

    It will be interesting to see the ‘road map’ the RAAF will need to produce to achieve all of this.


    John N

  • Craig


    I think they have got it about right actually. It has been increasingly obvious for some time now that that 24 Rhinos
    were going to be more than just a bridging capability. Especially when we bought them and all the kit outright at
    a cost of around 6 billion AUS! The number of JSF was always going to come down, that being the case. And the 12 Growler is a new capability. The question is where is the new Growler squadron goin to be based?

  • Eric


    The only thing not mentioned in the White Paper….where is the money coming from!

  • Darren


    Just in response to John N and Craig.

    Firstly I agree with much of what John has said bar a couple of points. I think ultimately two basic types (F-35/FA-18F) will be fine and gives us redundancy should a technical grounding occur. I appreciate the cost is higher, but it is worth it in my book.

    I would still hold on the ordering of F-35’s to get a mature airframe. Software is easier to upgrade than structures. Early production might not achieve FOC, or forever fly with limits. with probably only 72 airframes we can little afford lame ducks on the flightline.

    Finally as to the basing I would send an Opperational Super Hornet Sqn to Tindal, retain the OCU Supers and Growlers at Amberley and pool the remaing ‘classics’ at Willy Town. This will allow easier airframe management and puts our newest and theoretically easiest to maintain jet in an isolated area.

  • Josh


    Not a bad decision, but we should also invest in some FA-18E’s also.

  • John N



    Just to pick up on the point you made about the cost of the 24 F/A18F’s, they did not cost $6B.

    What Brendan Nelson, Def Min at that time, announce was the ‘total’ cost of purchase and ownership for a period of 10 years (which was the original time ‘gap’ they were to fill), he is probably the first and last Def Min to have ever given a total cost of owership for a project.

    From memory what he announced was that $6.1B covered the cost of airframes, base upgrades, weapons, spares, crews, fuel and right down to the last nut and bolt for a ten year period, again from memory the actual cost of the basic airframes was between $2.3B and $2.5B.

    Not trying to split hairs, but the same goes for every other defence purchase we make, in fact in Canada one of the big debates going on at the moment is on the total cost of ownership for the F35 over its life.


    Thanks for your comments and also the points you disagree on, happy to agree to disagree.

    Yes obviously sofware upgrades are a lot easier than hardware, but, especially for the ‘A’ model which we are buying and is less complex that it’s two sisters, how much airframe changes will need to be made before our’s start down the production line, I think that currently there are more than 100 airframes that have been built or are going down the production line, by the time our next batches of 12 and 58 start how many more 100’s will have gone before them?

    It will still come down to timing to ensure that they are here to replace the Classics in time.

    In regard to basing, I can’t see the value in swaping the Classics at Tindal for Super Hornets until the F35A’s take their place, in fact I think it would be even more costly and complicated for the RAAF, especially with the massive amount of changes ahead.

    To do what you are suggesting, for what would be a relatively short period of time would mean that all the support infrastructure that goes with the Super Hornets would have to be duplicated in two locations, probably a larger pool of spares in two locations, etc, etc.

    I would think that the Classics are well setted at Tindal and as long as the ‘best’ of the Classic airframes are available, then leave them there till they get replaced with the F35A’s.

    Anway, just my opinion of course!


    John N

  • Gary


    If the USN with its 10 or so super carriers is happy to run Superhornets and F35s side by side … who are we to question this ? Isn’t the real question – why aren’t we looking at the F35C – with the big wings and longer range – clearly better suited to a big continent like Oz. rather than the F35A …. at the same keep commonality with the USN

  • John N



    It’s easy to take a snapshot of the USN fleet and say, they are happy to run two different types of aircraft side by side and also say, who are we to question this.

    The answer to that question is simple, different generations of aircraft are replaced at different times many years apart, the whole fleet hasn’t come up for renewal all at the one time.

    Just go back in time a little bit and look at the introduction of the Classic and Super Hornets to the USN.

    Those two basic airframe types replaced, A-4, A-6, A-7, F-4, F-14, KA-6 Tankers, S-3B Tankers and eventually the Growler version of the Super Hornet will completely replace the EA-6 Prowlers.

    Simply put TWO types of aircraft, Classic and Super Hornet (+Growler variant) have replaced EIGHT types of aircraft and/or variants.

    Moving forward the Classic will be replaced by the F-35C and will operate alongside the Super / Growler versions.

    So yes it is still two types, but it’s also a massive reduction in the number of different types the USN operated in the not too distant past, will it reduce to one type eventually? Who knows, probably not for another generation or so following, but maybe some time in the future, as more and more roles and capabilities can be squeezed out of the one basic airframe we may see that happen.

    Apart from the USN fleet examples above, this has happened and is happening with the USAF and airforces all around the world too, as it has become cheaper and more efficient to operate only one or two types that fulfil the roles that many many different types that were required to be in service in the past.

    As to the question of why don’t we obtain the F-35C, why? Why do we need to keep Commonality with the USN fleet?

    The USN and USMC will operate less than 600 C’s between them, the USAF will operate around 2,000 A’s, plus majority of the F35 Partner Nations will operate the A version too.

    Yes the C has longer range, but not significantly so, according to Wiki the difference in ‘combat’ radius on internal fuel is only 60km’s over the A, Wiki also mentions ‘range’, which is presumably ferry range, the C has a 300km advantage, but in combat radius there is not much of a difference. (Sure these are only Wiki’s figures, the real figures aren’t published in the public domain).

    And let’s not forget that aerial refuelling can be added to the equation if required.

    The C is more expensive and will be more expensive to operate and maintain over the service life too, if we did go down the C path, then unless there is an increase to the Defence Budget, which isn’t going to happen, we would end up with a smaller fleet, sorry, but I can’t see the advantage of going down the C path.


    John N

Comments are closed.

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.