The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fleet of EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft has reached initial operating capability (IOC).
Defence announced the milestone in a statement on April 30.
Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies said achieving IOC for the Growler was a significant achievement.
“Over time, this aircraft will work with Army and Navy platforms to enhance our ability to control the electronic environment, and where necessary, deny or degrade the electronic systems of adversaries,” Air Marshal Davies said.
“This will provide a capability edge by enhancing tactical options to reduce risks to Australian and partner maritime, land and air forces in more complex and high-tech conflicts of the future.”
Getting to IOC comes five and a half years after the first RAAF EA-18G pilot commenced his training in October 2013 with the Electronic Attack Wing, US Pacific Fleet at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island near Seattle.
Over the next three years, an initial cadre of six crews each comprising a pilot and an electronic warfare officer (EWO) learnt to fly and operate the jet with the US Navy’s VAQ-129.
The first RAAF Growler, A46-301, was rolled out at Boeing’s St Louis facility in July 2015.
The RAAF has said previously it was targeting final operational capability (FOC) for the Growler in 2022.
RAAF’s first two EA-18G aircraft made their public debut at the 2017 Avalon Airshow, with the 10 more of the type delivered over the course of calendar 2017.
VIDEO: A look at two Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growlers at the 2017 Avalon Airshow from the RAAF YouTube channel.
While there were originally 12 aircraft in the fleet, one RAAF Growler suffered a catastrophic engine failure during takeoff from Nellis AFB in Nevada on January 28 2018 during the type’s first deployment to a Red Flag exercise.
Australia was only the second country to operate the Growler behind the United States, where it is flown by the Navy.
Boeing is the EA-18G prime contractor, but Northrop Grumman is responsible for building and supporting much of the aircraft, from its fuselage to its jamming pods.
Today the Growler jams radars and other emitters with ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System pods, developed first for the EA-6B Prowler. Originally manufactured by EDO Corporation, now Harris Corporation, Northrop Grumman has been responsible for upgrading and maintaining the ALQ-99, in both its low band and high band forms since the late 1990s.
Production of these pods ended more than a decade ago and were set to be replaced under the US Navy’s Next Gen Jammer Program, which ultimately will see three, not two, jamming pods procured to cover the mid, low and high bands.
Work on the mid-band jammer – NGJ-MB – is well advanced after Raytheon won a competitive evaluation for its development in 2013. (And since late 2017 Australia has been a cooperative partner in the NGJ-MB’s development after the RAAF signed a memorandum of understanding with the US Navy). The NGJ-MB, designated ALQ-249(V)1, is currently in the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase and should achieve initial operating capability in 2022.
The low-band Next Gen Jammer – NGJ-LB – meanwhile, will be selected after a competitive evaluation of designs from L3 and Northrop Grumman. Both companies won US$35 million contracts last October to continue developing their pod designs, prototype examples of which will be evaluated by the US Navy.
The March 2019 edition of Australian Aviation included a feature story on keeping the EA-18G at the forefront of electronic attack. The story written by Gerard Frawley can be read here.