The Boeing EA-18G Growler is a carrier-based electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet. It began production in 2007 and is slated for fleet deployment in 2009. The EA-18G will replace the Navy's EA-6B Prowler.
The first EA-18G test aircraft went into production in October 22, 2004. The EA-18G had a public rollout on August 3, 2006. The first test aircraft, known as EA-1 made its initial flight in St. Louis on August 15, 2006, and ferried to the US Navy's Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland on September 22, 2006. EA-1 primarily supports ground testing in the Air Combat Environment Test and Evaluation Facility (ACETEF) anechoic chamber. The second aircraft, known as EA-2 first flew on November 10, 2006, and was delivered to NAS Patuxent River (Pax River) on November 29, 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". There were five Growlers flying in the flight test program as of June 2008.
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. They will not enter the fleet population - but will remain within the VX test squadron community.
In an April 2006 report, the United States Government Accountability Office expressed concerns that because the EA-18G was apparently "not fully following the knowledge-based approach inherent in best practices and DOD's acquisition guidance", the program had an increasing risk of "future cost growth and schedule delays". The report recommends 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".
The U.S Navy has ordered a total of 57 airplanes to replace its existing EA-6B Prowlers in service, all of which will be based at NAS Whidbey Island save for Reserve Squadron VAQ-209 based at NAF Washington, MD. The US DoD gave approval for the EA-18G program to begin low-rate initial production in 2007. Full production is to begin in 2008.
The EA-18G is scheduled to finish flight testing in 2008, then earn initial operational capability in 2009. The Navy is planning to buy approximately 85 aircraft in order to equip 11 squadrons. The first Growler for fleet use was officially accepted by VAQ-129 "Vikings" at NAS Whidbey Island, on June 3, 2008.
In 2008 the Australian Government requested export approval from the US government to purchase EA-18Gs to complement Australia's order of 24 F/A-18Fs. If this approval is granted Australia may buy up to six EA-18Gs.
The flight performance of the Growler is similar to that of the F/A-18. This attribute enables the Growler to perform escort jamming as well as the traditional standoff jamming mission. Growlers will be able to accompany F/A-18s during all phases of an attack mission.
The Growler has more than 90% in common with the standard Super Hornet, sharing airframe, 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.
The EA-18G can be fitted with up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods and will typically add two AIM-120 self-defense missiles and two AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation (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.
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.
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