MELBOURNE, Australia — Three U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers from VAQ-132 are at Amberley Air Force Base in Queensland for two weeks of exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The exercise, Growler 12, began Oct. 1 and involves operations with Australia’s F/A-18F Super Hornet fleet. It also marks the first time the Growler has visited Australia.
VAQ-132, an electronic attack squadron, is forward-deployed to Misawa Air Base in Japan.
Australia recently announced it will convert half of its 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets to EA-18G Growler configuration by 2018, becoming the first country outside the U.S. to field such a capability.
The final 12 Super Hornets delivered to Australia were pre-wired on the production line for potential Growler conversion.
Speaking shortly after Growler 12 commenced, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) chief, detailed what the bilateral exercise was planned to deliver and provided further details of the local Growler program.
“The visit will allow us to have our first look at operating the Super Hornets with Growler, to look at the tactics and procedures they use and allow us an early step up,” Brown said. “It underscores the U.S. Navy’s support for our Air Force in standing up this capability, that they are willing to undertake a deployment down here so early after we made the decision.”
Six RAAF Super Hornets will initially be converted, and RAAF flight crew training will take place at U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., to cover the shortfall of available aircraft in Australia. The first conversion is due to begin in 2014 with at least the first two carried out by Boeing in the United States.
The remaining six aircraft will not enter the conversion process until F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) deliveries to Australia begin late in this decade.
“It’s all to do with the air combat transition from ‘classic’ Hornet to JSF and getting the timing right,” Brown said. “We won’t do the other six until we’re well into JSF transition, so we don’t have a gap in our fighter/strike capability.”
The Growler decision has attracted criticism in Australia, particularly with respect to the associated acquisition of ALQ-99 jamming pods, but Brown said he is confident in the Growler’s capabilities ahead of the introduction of the New Generation Jammer (NGJ) early next decade.
“NGJ still has a lot of development ahead of it, so we will operate ALQ-99s until we see a good solid capability that we can buy off the shelf,” he said. “This will be a developing capability over time for us, but we are confident we will have the same level of capability as the United States Navy. Our aircraft will be full-spec Growlers.
“The Growler decision was a big decision,” Brown said. “It widens our capability from straight air combat to full-spectrum electronic warfare and will be pivotal to our future thinking on the capability.”