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Think tank calls for Growlers

written by australianaviation.com.au | January 10, 2012

A think tank has called on the Australian government to begin converting at least six F/A-18 Super Hornets into EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

An independent airpower think tank has called on the Australian government to begin converting at least six of the RAAF’s F/A-18 Super Hornets into ‘Growler’ electronic warfare aircraft.

The Canberra based Williams Foundation says a dedicated EW capability remains the “one missing component” of what will soon be the best air power system in Australian history.”

“As operations for the last 20 years have shown, most recently in Libya, the ability to conduct both active and passive EW operations, incorporating roles such as electronic attack, suppression of enemy air defences, force protection, enemy order of battle analysis, and kill chain analysis – is critical,” the foundation argued in a statement.

A dozen of the RAAF’s 24 Super Hornets – the last of which were delivered in October – were purchased pre-wired for Growler conversion, and Defence Minister Stephen Smith late last year confirmed that the federal government was considering converting some of the fighters. The cost of converting six of the Super Hornets into Growlers is believed to exceed $400 million.

Current ADF assets including the F/A-18, the Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft and the AP-3C Orion constitute an “ad hoc EW force,” the Williams Foundation said, “but a specialised system is needed.”


  • John N


    I think its a good idea that the RAAF ultimately receives a Growler capability.

    But I think there will be a number of determining factors before that decision is made.

    Firstly, until a clear picture emerges of the possible further delays with the F-35’s we won’t know if the Super Hornets and a possible a further batch are required, to be maintained in their “main” role to prevent a gap in the RAAF’s capability.

    The next issue will be, is it going to be a full Growler capability or Growler “lite”?

    As as been reported in the Australian Aviation and other publications, the necessary underwing pods for a full Growler is affected by the age, and availability, of the pods being carried over from the Prowlers, the USA will be first in line for that equipment, of course.

    Once a decision has been made, it will probably be Growler “lite” and then maybe a full Growler configuration when the next generation of underwind jammer pods are developled later this decade or early 2020’s.

    In any event, I don’t think we will see a Growler capability, lite or full tomorrow, even if it was wanted or desired.

  • Dane


    The Growlers will be a good good force protector for Australia. While The F-35 has limited EW capability but the F/A-18G will be able to cover that gap. I can’t see Australia paying $3 million per jet for the wiring harnesses and not getting the capability at some point. Former Defence Minister Brendan Nelson probably had this expansion in mind when he ordered the Rhinos.

  • Bob


    I’ve read that the F-35 will have the full Growler capability which is why the RAAF didn’t think it was worth having the Super Hornets pre-wired. Even if that’s the case, the F-35 delay for full RAAF operability will be such that the sooner the RAAF has the capability the better – even if it’s only so that when the F-35 does enter service, the pilots will already have the training and knowledge in place.



    With the cost of the F-35 variant for the RAAF now hovering (no pun intended) at around US$ 135 Million, plus all the ancillery costs – can the Nation even afford 14 airframes, let alone all of the equally expensive infrastructure. Rather than play the traditional RAAF fighter need for the biggest and the best (and the most expensive), perhaps like the RCAF, Norway, Denmark and others, we should start to look at the combat proven EADS Typhoon Trache 4 or Super Typhoon (or whatever they are calling it this week). Together with a enhanced F-18 Super Hornet force, giving a 100 plus operational aircraft of both types, doing the same job (and perhaps better) than the F-35, and at a far more realistic price to buy, and to operate.

    We could also look at a far cheaper and much more tactically effective aircraft that the RAAF can operate to support the Army than the C-27 Spartan, the Vancouver based Viking Aviation’s super variant of the C-7 Caribou, widened to accept standard NATO pallets, with turboprop engines. The RAAF has totally ignored Viking’s financially viable offer for ten aircraft, at a cost less that the C-27, and it being a far cheaper aircraft to operate, and do the Army’s job which the C-27 cannot do by any stretch of the imagination. They just want a C-130 mini-clone to do the short runs.

  • Foo


    Should buy six kits also buy 18 extra superhornets and have split fleet of f35a model and small number (probably 18 f35b) to put onto the navy’s lhd amphibs .The overall fleet numbers should be around 120 air frames

  • Dane


    Foo, I have to agree with you on the extra Rhino buy. Perhaps a mixture of E and F models? The F-35 will not be ready in time and could leave a substantial gap when the older Classics are due for retirement. The F-35B may be an option down the track for the Air Force/Navy as the ski ramp has been left on the LHD deck for some reason and also this would give Australia an option to expand its fighter radius. But for now it would be wise to just get the A model up and operating properly before the B model is looked at.

  • Allan


    Any capability that gives our crews the edge needed to conduct their mission has to be a bonus. Pre wiring was the smartest thing that the previous government did when ordering the Supers, Otherwise having to crack open the wings and fuselage again would have added many more dollars to the equation.

    You never know the US might let Australia have some of the new generation pods when they are developed for being such a staunch supporter.

    Until then Growler lite seems the only option.

  • AA Cunningham


    The TJS suite; particularly the ALQ-99, is not, and should not be, available for export.

    Pin your hopes on being able to procure a reduced capability NGJ.

  • Dane


    At least this think tank has their head screwed on right, unlike APA

  • Dan


    The PAK FA is the right aircraft for the RAAF, F 35 is to expensive and wont be here on time, dont forget, America is 15 trillion dollars in debt and has budgets cuts for there military spending and how will that go well for the F 35?, (I’m not a APA fan by the way)

  • Peter


    There’s actually a new plan: NGJ To Go Unmanned.

    The EA-18G Growler will have a limited lifespan, despite the type being a new aircraft in USN service as an EA-6B Prowler replacement. Its been stated from Aviation Week that it’ll have a limited service life of 15-17 years left by the time it starts carrying NGJ pods.

  • John N


    Peter, Just because “Aviation Week” states that Electronic Warefare may end up being the domain of unmanned aircraft for the US Navy doesn’t meant that Australia (if it decides to convert some of the Rhino’s at some stage in the future) can’t and won’t effectively operate EA-18 Growlers (lite or full) beyond the time frames you have mentioned.

    If the new generation jammer pods are going to come into service for the US some time later this decade, your statement of 15-17 years still has us to some time in the later 2030’s.

    If thats the case then the FA-18F’s will probably spend 1/3 or the life in the role they were purchased for and the remaining 2/3 in the Gowler role, so I don’t see that as an issue of waste.

  • Dane


    Australia probably won’t acquire an unmanned EW platform within this decade. The Global Hawk was rejected by the government last year(?) to operate alongside the P-8 as a replacement for the AP-3C Orion. This would indicate for the short term that strategists prefer a manned solution for EW operations.

  • John N


    Dane, The Government hasn’t “rejected” the Global Hawk, it has deferred its entry date.

    The two phases of Project AIR7000, Orion replacement, has been “swapped” around. Originally it was intended to obtain 7 Global Hawks (most likely the BAMS version) before the 8 P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

    Sometime after the mid 2020’s, if all goes to plan, we will should see both the P-8A’s and Global Hawks in RAAF service.

    If you go to the Defence.gov.au web site, and click on the “Reports and Publications” tab at the top, scroll down to the Defence Capability Plan and you will see the details and proposed entry into service of all current ADF projects.

    In any event the Global Hawks are not intended for an “Electronic Warfare” role, their role will be long range high altitude surveillence.

    Getting back to “Electronic Warfare”, if the Government does decide to go down that path in the future, it will most probably be a conversion of the Rhino’s into Growlers (or most likely Growler Lite).

    (PS, I posted this earlier today, but something didn’t work, John N)

  • Tim C


    When are they going to make up their minds, it would be interesting to see if the British Royal Navy will get them for their carriers.

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