ST. LOUIS — Boeing rolled out the first EA-18 Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in a ceremony at its St. Louis facility on July 29.

The aircraft is the first of 12 for Australia under an AUS $3 billion (US $2.2 billion) acquisition program and is the 116th Growler to be delivered by the US plane maker.

Resplendent in the markings of the RAAF's No. 6 Squadron, the aircraft performed its first flight on July 13. The second Australian aircraft is due to be delivered in August.

Accepting the first aircraft on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force, the recently retired Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, said that lessons had been learned from US Navy's Growler operations in Libya. As a result, Australia's Growlers will be equipped with the Raytheon ASQ-228 ATFLIR targeting pod, which can be cued by the aircraft's on-board sensors to designate ground targets.

Additional air-to-air weapons in the form of the Raytheon AIM-9X missile will also be unique to the Australian aircraft.

"It is an extremely important milestone in the development of RAAF, the ability to shut down surface to air missiles or other electronic emissions across the battlespace is truly unique capability," Air Marshal Brown said.

"I predict it will have one of the biggest strategic effects on the RAAF since the introduction of the F-111 in the 1970's.

"With the Growler capability we really have a full-spectrum force. In many respects it's the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle for us."

The first two aircraft will initially be used to certify Australian-specific software with the US Navy at Patuxent River, Maryland, and China Lake, California.

Some Australian crews have already completed Growler training with VAQ-129 at Whidbey Island, Washington, and are currently flying operationally with the US Navy's three expeditionary Growler squadrons.

Deliveries to Australia will begin in 2017 and Initial Operational Capability will follow in 2018.

Unless it wins further orders, Boeing's vice president for F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager s, Dan Gillian, said that the Super Hornet/Growler production line will close at the end of 2017 and is currently reducing the build rate from four aircraft to two per month.

He said the company was negotiating a contract with the US Navy for 15 additional EA-18Gs added in the FY15 budget and 15 Super Hornets in the FY16 budget.

Boeing is also negotiating with a customer in the Middle East, – believed to be Kuwait, – for between 24 and 36 Super Hornets.

"It’s important we keep this line open to meet the needs of this nation and its allies," Jeremiah Nixon, gGovernor of the State of Missouri, told guests at the ceremony.


Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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