The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an American carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft, a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet. The EA-18G replaced the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers in service with the United States Navy. The Growler's electronic warfare capability is primarily provided by Northrop Grumman. The EA-18G began production in 2007 and entered operational service with the US Navy in late 2009. Australia has also purchased twelve EA-18Gs, which entered service with the Royal Australian Air Force in 2017.
Requirement and testing
The first EA-18G at the roll-out ceremony on 3 August 2006
On 15 November 2001, Boeing successfully completed an initial flight demonstration of F/A-18F "F-1" fitted with the ALQ-99 electronic warfare system to serve as the EA-18 Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) concept aircraft. In December 2003, the US Navy awarded a development contract for the EA-18G to Boeing. As primary contractor, Boeing was to construct the forward fuselage, wings and perform the final assembly. Northrop Grumman was the principal airframe subcontractor and they would supply the center and aft fuselage as well as the principal electronic combat system. In 2003, the Navy expected to receive 90 EA-18Gs.
The first EA-18G test aircraft entered production on 22 October 2004. The first test aircraft, known as EA-1, was rolled out on 3 August 2006, before making its maiden flight at St. Louis on 15 August 2006; it was later ferried to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland on 22 September 2006. EA-1 primarily supports ground testing in the Air Combat Environment Test and Evaluation Facility (ACETEF) anechoic chamber.
The second aircraft (EA-2) first flew on 10 November 2006, and was delivered to NAS Patuxent River on 29 November 2006. EA-2 is an AEA flight test aircraft, initially flying on Pax River's Atlantic Test Range (ATR) for developmental test of the AEA system before transitioning to the Electronic Combat Range (ECR, or 'Echo Range') in Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. Both aircraft are assigned to VX-23 "Salty Dogs". EA-1 and EA-2 are F/A-18Fs F-134 and F-135, pulled from the St. Louis production line and modified by Boeing to the EA-18G configuration. However, since they were not built initially as Growlers, the Navy has designated these two test aircraft as NEA-18Gs. There were five Growlers flying in the flight test program as of June 2008.
An EA-18G Growler alongside an EA-6B Prowler shortly after arriving at NAS Whidbey Island, 9 April 2007.
In an April 2006 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office expressed concerns. The GAO felt the electronic warfare systems on the EA-18G were not fully mature so there is a risk of "future cost growth and schedule delays". The report recommended that the DoD consider purchasing additional ICAP III upgrades for EA-6Bs to fill any current and near-term capability gaps and restructure the initial EA-18G production plans so that procurement takes place after the aircraft has "demonstrated full functionality". In a 2008 GAO report, the director of the DoD's Operational Test and Evaluation department questioned the workload on the two-person Growler crew to replace the Prowler's crew of four.
VAQ-133 EA-18G Growler at NAS Whidbey Island
The U.S Navy has ordered a total of 57 aircraft to replace its in-service EA-6B Prowlers, most of which will be based at NAS Whidbey Island. The US DoD gave approval for the EA-18G program to begin low-rate initial production in 2007. The EA-18G was scheduled to finish flight testing in 2008. The Navy planned to buy approximately 85 aircraft in 2008. Approval for full-rate production was expected in the third quarter of 2009, and was given on 23 November 2009. Boeing planned to ramp up production to 20 aircraft per year. On 9 July 2009, General James Cartwright told the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services that the choice had been to continue the F/A-18 production line because the warfighting commanders needed more aerial electronic warfare capability that only the EA-18G could provide.
The Navy's submission for the 2011 defense budget put forth by the Obama Administration calls for four EA-18G Growler squadrons to be added to the fleet. On 14 May 2010, Boeing and the US Department of Defense reached an agreement for a multi-year contract for an additional 66 F/A-18E/Fs and 58 EA-18Gs over the next four years. This will raise the total to 114 EA-18Gs on order.
The Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation determined that the EA-18G was "still not operationally suitable" in February 2011. Prime contractor Boeing is working to address issues with software updates. In December 2011, Operational Test and Evaluation concluded that the EA-18G software was "operationally effective and suitable".
On 19 December 2014, the Navy publicly reported that it wants to modify the production contract with Boeing to slow production of the Growler from three airplanes per month to two. It will also purchase an additional 15 Growlers, funded by a spending bill that will go to President Obama for signature in late December 2014. Boeing would then be able to continue running the St. Louis production line through 2017. Boeing has said it cannot sustain the production line at fewer than two airplanes per month.
An EA-18G Growler (BuNo 166856) of test and evaluation squadron VX-9 Vampires, carrying a payload of external fuel tanks and missiles
The Growler's flight performance is similar to that of the F/A-18E/F. This attribute enables the Growler to perform escort jamming as well as the traditional standoff jamming mission (Radar jamming and deception). Growlers will be able to accompany F/A-18s during all phases of an attack mission. In order to give the Growler more stable flight for the electronic warfare mission, Boeing changed the leading edge fairings and wing fold hinge fairings, and added wing fences and aileron "tripper strips".
The Growler has more than 90% in common with the standard Super Hornet, sharing airframe, Raytheon AN/APG-79 AESA radar and weapon systems such as the AN/AYK-22 stores management system. Most of the dedicated airborne electronic attack equipment is mounted in the space that used to house the internal 20 mm cannon and on the wingtips. Nine weapons stations remain free to provide for additional weapons or jamming pods. The added electronics include AN/ALQ-218 wideband receivers on the wingtips and ALQ-99 high and low-band tactical jamming pods. The ALQ-218 combined with the ALQ-99 form a full spectrum electronic warfare suite that is able to provide detection and jamming against all known surface-to-air threats. However, the current pods may be inadequate against emerging threats.
The EA-18G can be fitted with up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods and will typically add two AIM-120 AMRAAM or AGM-88 HARM missiles. The EA-18G will also use the INCANS Interference Cancellation system that will allow voice communication while jamming enemy communications, a capability not available on the EA-6B. In addition to the radar warning and jamming equipment, the Growler possesses a communications receiver and jamming system that will provide suppression and electronic attack against airborne communication threats.
The poor reliability of the ALQ-99 jammer pod and frequent failures of the Built-In Test (BIT) have caused the crew to fly missions with undetected faults. The ALQ-99 has also interfered with the aircraft's AESA radar and has imposed a high workload on the two-man crew, along with reducing the Growler's top speed.
Boeing is looking into other potential upgrades; the ALQ-99 radar jamming pod may be replaced in the future, and the company is looking into adding weapons and replacing the satellite communications receiver. The Growler is the initial platform for the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) which uses Active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology to focus jamming power exactly where needed. The NGJ was to be implemented on the F-35. However, in May 2012, the U.S. Navy decided to focus NGJ integration on the EA-18G for an expected in-service date of 2020, and defer work for the F-35. Boeing is also looking at exporting a Growler Lite configuration without the jamming pods for electronic awareness rather than electronic attack.
Three Growlers networked together can generate targeting tracks for hostile radio-frequency sources in real time, but this is difficult to arrange with the current minimum strength US Navy squadrons. Utilizing faster data-links, the Growler could use its EW pods to accurately locate signal sources. In a group of three planes, when one detects a signal from a source such as a cell phone, the other two can also listen for the same signal, all three measuring the amount of time taken for transmissions to travel from the source to each aircraft to triangulate the location in "a very, very small area." By early 2015, the Navy had demonstrated this concept using EA-18s equipped with Rockwell Collins' tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) and ALQ-218 receivers to acquire emissions from a target vessel and target it from a stand-off range without using their own detectable radar emissions. Boeing announced on 1 December 2015 that they would upgrade Navy EA-18Gs with the TTNT datalink.
Following U.S. Navy missions in Operation Odyssey Dawn during the 2011 Libyan Revolution, the Royal Australian Air Force decided to add the Raytheon ATFLIR (forward looking infrared) pod to their order of 12 Growler aircraft. When Navy EA-18Gs' radar and radar detectors located possible targets, they passed the information through datalinks to strike fighters. However, the Growlers themselves lacked the ability to visually confirm what it detected, so adding a FLIR pod gives it visual acuity to see targets and shorten the kill chain; it is not known if the U.S. Navy will also add a FLIR pod. Australian EA-18Gs will also be equipped with the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
The first Growler for fleet use was officially accepted by VAQ-129 "Vikings" at NAS Whidbey Island, on 3 June 2008. The Navy planned to buy approximately 85 aircraft to equip 11 squadrons as of 2008. The EA-18G completed operational evaluation in late July 2009. The Growler was rated operationally effective and suitable for operational use. On 5 August 2009, EA-18G Growlers from Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129) and Electronic Attack Squadron 132 (VAQ-132) completed their first at-sea carrier-arrested landing aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
The first deployable EA-18G squadron is to be VAQ-132 "Scorpions", which reached operational status in October 2009. The first Growler operational deployment was announced on 17 February 2011. In service, the EA-18's radio name during flight operations will be "Grizzly". The "Growler" nickname sounded too much like the EA-6B's "Prowler" name, so "Grizzly" will be used to avoid confusion. By May 2011, 48 Growlers had been delivered to the U.S. Navy.
With the termination of the EB-52H standoff jammer, the Growler became the sole remaining manned tactical jammer. Air Staff requirements director Maj. Gen. David Scott has indicated that the USAF will seek to provide electronic warfare officers to fly on U.S. Navy Growlers, without providing funding to purchase additional aircraft. U.S. Air Force personnel of 390th Electronic Combat Squadron stationed at NAS Whidbey Island have been supporting and flying the Growler.
The EA-18G was first used in combat during Operation Odyssey Dawn, enforcing the UN no-fly zone over Libya in 2011. Five EA-18Gs were redeployed from Iraq to support operations in Libya in 2011.
An Australian EA-18G in 2017