Following the announcement on August 23 that an initial 6 out of RAAF’s 24 Super Hornets will be converted to Electronic Warfare ‘Growler’ configuration, interaction with the USN is on the increase.
30th Oct 2012
VAQ 132 Growlers Complete Exercise with Royal Australian Air Force
Kym Bergmann / Canberra
Following the announcement on August 23 that an initial 6 out of RAAF’s 24 Super Hornets will be converted to Electronic Warfare ‘Growler’ configuration, interaction with the USN is on the increase. Twelve of the Australian aircraft have been pre-wired to allow the easy conversion to the EW variant, should that be required.
The USN has so far ordered 114 of the aircraft, and they have already proven their worth in combat operations – including Afghanistan. While operational details remain classified, it seems they have been used for missions including emitter location and communications jamming – the latter being useful for disrupting the ability of insurgents to remotely trigger Improvised Explosive Devices.
A joint exercise involving the RAAF and the USN Growlers of the “Scorpions” Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 132 wrapped up exercise a joint exercise at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland on19 October, having commenced two weeks earlier. The exercise involved three of the USN Growlers, several RAAF Super Hornets as well as a ‘Wedgetail’ AEW&C aircraft and a Multi-Role Tanker Transport. No RAAF personnel flew on the ‘Growlers’, though they were fully involved in mission planning and mission support.
Named as ‘Growler 12’, the USN described it as a bilateral exercise between the U.S. Navy and the RAAF focusing on Airborne Electronic Attack joint training, real-world proficiency, employment and integration while promoting bilateral military relationships.
The USN said the exercise provided a chance for the two countries to practice the integration of the Growler, which is based on the Super Hornet airframe, into various mission types. It allowed both forces to get experience operating with one another and learn about one another’s capabilities and tactics.
“When the Super Hornet aircrew were planning their missions they would look at what capabilities the Growler had with the airborne electronic attack systems that would enable the Growlers to open doors for the Super Hornet to reduce its threats so they could safely and effectively carry out its mission.” stated Australian Group Captain Geoff Harland, Officer Commanding Number 82 Wing.
The exercise emphasized the Electronic Attack capabilities the Growler brings to any operation, enhancing the capability and survivability of forces it is operating with.
Cmdr. Dave Kurtz, Commanding Officer of VAQ-132 said, “The objective of the EA-18G Growler is to degrade, deceive and deny the threat system they are going against. This will allow the Growler to put the enemy on the back foot in the hope that it will make bad decisions or simply not be able to make decisions at all because they don’t have enough information and therefore unable to carry out its mission.”
During the exercise, VAQ 132 held a change of command ceremony, with Kurtz relieving Cmdr. Jay Matzko as commanding officer. The keynote speaker for the event, Capt. John Springett, commander, Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, which VAQ 132 is assigned to, spoke to the U.S. and Australian audience about the reason why exercises like Growler 12 are important.
Springett said, “We are honored to be allies, and I truly believe that the strong relationship between our two countries contributes to the peace, security and stability of the region.”
The exercise provided an opportunity for the aviators from both countries to fly alongside one another as well as share knowledge on the ground.
“I, and everyone I have talked to has had nothing but the highest praise for the Australians that we have had the opportunity to work with,” said Lt. Benjamin Cox, a VAQ 132 pilot. “The aircrews are highly competent, highly professional and I’ve got nothing but high praise for them.”
VAQ 132 is based in Oak Harbor, Washington, and is currently on a six-month deployment to Misawa Japan. It is one of three land-based USN Growler squadrons.
The decision to spend a total of $1.5 billion on the conversion is not without its critics. Even though the Growlers add in formidable electronic attack capabilities, it is not clear that their integration into the RAAF inventory will be pain-free. In the USN structure, Growler pilots and operators have a completely separate career path from the Super Hornet community, allowing them to become EW specialists. It is not clear if the much small number of aircraft being acquired by RAAF will allow similar specialization to take place.
There are also some uncertainties about how the Growlers will work with the Joint Strike Fighters to be acquired during the next decade. The JSF itself is said to have formidable EW capabilities – though to be fair the USN will certainly operate both platforms in parallel.