The EA-18G Growler has passed its operational tests and is in demand for U.S. joint expeditionary forces.
So what does that mean when you’re up against a foe that doesn’t have aircraft or radar warning or radar-guided surface to air missiles? It means the Growler’s other operational forte will be in play – fooling with the foe’s communications.
Officials are loath to discuss what specifically the need for airborne electronic attack (AEA) is in someplace like Afghanistan or Iraq. But it’s the aircraft’s digital communications emitter geo-location and identification capability that’s at the top of the list. It allows tracking of enemy command and control, network mapping and signals intercept. It also can be an important factor in combating improvised explosive devices.
The EA-18G Growler is now on the road to full rate production decision and it could benefit from an expected Quadrennial Defense Review decision that U.S. expeditionary forces need another 26-30 airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft.
Successful completion of operational testing for the U.S. Navy’s digital, electronic attack aircraft might trigger the production of more EA-18Gs. Senior Pentagon officials have discussed the expeditionary operational shortfall openly in congressional hearings.
Production pressure on the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G production line would likely be driven by the expeditionary requirement. So far 12 aircraft have been delivered to the Navy, and two more will follow in Sept. and Oct. as part of the current 34 aircraft contract. Each cost about $65 million. The Navy’s operational validation of the Growler opens the door to a full rate production decision in the fall for another 54 aircraft. The Navy’s current program is set at 88 total aircraft.
After years of criticism for being – potentially -- too concurrent, not evolutionary enough and increasingly expensive, the EA-18G shrugged off its critics by being declared operationally effective and suitable in late July with a recommendation for introduction into the fleet.
The determination was made by the Navy’s commander of operational test and evaluation forces. It means, roughly, that the Growler is deemed capable of performing its operational mission of electronic attack. Suitability refers to the adequacy of maintenance, reliability and support.
The Growler has been designed to bridge the gap between the new, digital ICAP III electronic attack system which has just been introduced into the Grizzly and the EA-6B that the EA-18G will replace in Navy squadrons. It will later be modified with the Next Generation Jammer program which is to make a quantum leap into the world of advanced electronic attack, cyber warfare and network exploitation.
As proof of the system’s flexibility, Navy officials like Capt. Mark Darrah, F/A-18 & EA-18G program manager, PMA-265 point to software problems found and fixed during the test program by developing a software update release which will go into the aircraft in the next software release later this year.
The software problems were not associated with the Growler's ability to transmit or receive, but rather involved integration of the electronic attack pod on the wing and electronic attack suite on the aircraft, Martin says.
Correction: $55 million above was changed to $65 million.