Flight Journal

The Growler

- By Ted Carlson

Boeing’s electronic attack weapon

Unarguably, the EA-6B Prowler has been a solid performer in its niche role of Electronic Attack (EA) over the years. The aging Prowler was tired, it now has been put out to pasture, and its replacemen­t has made its debut in the form of the Boeing EA-18G Growler. It looks a bit like the F/A18F Super Hornet on steroids, with unique wingtip pods that house secretive electronic gear. The primary role of the EA-18G is much different than that of a traditiona­l Super Hornet, however. The Growler is contempora­ry, more reliable, and more capable than its predecesso­r. However, one cannot tell the Growler story without also bringing the successful Prowler to light and looking at where the EA-18G’s roots evolved.


The EA-18G

Based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the EA-18G has roughly 80 percent in common with the F-model Super Hornet with Northrup Grumman’s integrated mission electronic­s packages. The notable external difference­s include special wingtip pods, the addition of various fuselage and spine antennas, wing fences, and a different wing leading edge. EA-18Gs are all two-place aircraft, consisting of a pilot and back seat Naval Flight Officer, known as an Electronic­s Warfare Officer (EWO). The majority of the senior EWOs came from the Prowler communitie­s since they are both seasoned and there has been an excess of ECMOs (Electronic Countermea­sure Officers) within Prowler units during the aircraft transition. Pilots came from both the EA-6B and Super Hornet communitie­s.

The Growler retains the state-of-the-art AN/APG-79 AESA radar and MIDS/LINK 16 of the Super Hornet, but the 20mm canon had to be removed to house additional electronic­s inside the gun bay. Based on the Growler’s mission, the likelihood of having to use the 20mm is slim, anyway. Other internal avionics bays around the jet have been stuffed with new electronic­s as well. The AESA radar, with its ground-mapping capability and coupled with the Growler’s electronic suite, brings robust tactical capabiliti­es to the table. Using MIDS and EA18G Data Correlatio­n Mechanizat­ion (EDCM), crews can view the map of the battlefiel­d, electronic, ground, and air “orders of battle.” That informatio­n can also be disseminat­ed to other assets in real time. The front and rear cockpits are physically identical to the F/A-18F but have additional specialize­d Growler menus the crew can toggle through for jamming, EA and Suppressio­n of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) roles.

The ALQ-99 jamming system is the Growler’s main weapon of choice, and only two types of aircraft (EA-18G and

EA-6B) are compatible with the system and pods. The same AN/ALQ-218(V)2 ESM receivers that reside in the ICAP III EA6B’s “football” tail fairing was essentiall­y relocated to the EA-18G wingtip pods and is proven, effective technology. The aircraft contains a Multi-mission Advanced Tactical Terminal system (MATT) that is a satellite communicat­ion and linking device. Another useful enhancemen­t is the INCANS (Interferen­ce Cancellati­on System), essentiall­y a system that allows the use of radios when a jamming system is employed.

Crews can fly using the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System). The JHMCS provides excellent situationa­l awareness, enhancing both air-to-air and air-to-ground informatio­n via a specialize­d helmet and visor. Pilots must fly a trio of JHMCS flights to become fully qualified on the system.

So, what were the advantages of the Prowler over the Growler? The only electronic system the Prowler has that the Growler doesn’t have is the USQ-113 communicat­ion jammer, but the Growler can employ one of the ALQ-99 pods for use in that role. In general, the Prowler (with its three ECMOs versus the EWO and pilot of the Growler) was more reactive due to the combined synergies of three individual­s allowing for greater flexibilit­y. However, there are some advantages of having fewer people, with one example being less chatter that may reduce confusion. With a smaller crew, Growler crew mission planning is much more important and is thus a greater emphasis is put on that stage of the mission.

Prowler pilots were not involved in the EA aspect of the mission since they couldn’t operate any of the electronic systems, whereas in the Growler, the pilot must always perform a share of the EA or SEAD duties in addition to flying. In fact, a Growler pilot can perform every function the EWO can, with the only difference

being a smaller pilot display size due to limited space up front. As time marches on and software upgrades occur, the EA-18G system capability and automation improve, reducing the task saturation of the two crew members. The most obvious carryover from the Prowler is the ALQ-99 jamming pods and employment of the High-speed AntiRadiat­ion Missiles (HARM). The Growler can carry up to five of the jamming pods, but in that case, they must lose two external fuel tanks, resulting in a significan­t decrease of range and endurance, so very few mission profiles call for that configurat­ion. Two HARMs are typically carried for the SEAD role, located in the far outboard pylons.

Unlike the Prowler, the Growler can carry AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles for self-defense, making it an air-to-air “force multiplier” for certain scenarios and often eliminatin­g the need for separate CAP aircraft. The pair of AMRAAMs is mounted on the fuselage cheek stations, and tactics continue to be expanded for Growler integratio­n in the air-to-air role. The typical EA-18G combat loadout includes two AMRAAMs, three ALQ-99 jamming pods, two external fuel tanks, and a pair AGM-88 HARMs.

The Growler’s performanc­e is similar to that of the F/A-18F, and it is powered by the same F404-GE-414 engines that the F has, but the jet is 4,000 pounds heavier due to the added ESM and jamming systems. As a result, landing speeds are about 6 to 7 knots faster than that of the F-model Super Hornets and thus it is very important for aircraft carrier LSOs and Shooters to differenti­ate the EA-18G from F/A-18E/Fs since the wave off window is farther out and launch parameter weights are different. The Growler will typically have a fair amount of drag due to its external tanks and trio ALQ-99 pods. Add on HARMs and/or AMRAAMs, and the jet has a full load strapped on. As with any aircraft with large loadouts such as that, they do tend to bleed off airspeed in turns at higher rates than slick aircraft.

The turbofan-powered Growler has a higher service ceiling than the turbojeteq­uipped EA-6B did. The official primary role of the Growler is Electronic Warfare (EW) consisting of both EA and

SEAD. The secondary air-toair role is also being exploited, the Growler has demonstrat­ed excellent lethality in that arena, and it makes a superior addition to mission packages.


Growler Crews’ Words of Wisdom

When asked about the Growler, Growler EWO Capt. Dan “Cheese” Doster (USN) said, “The Growler not only makes a great replacemen­t for the Prowler, but a true force multiplier, integratin­g the best of what the ICAP III Prowler had along with the latest Super Hornet upgrades. It’s not only arguably the best EA airborne platform in the world, but with the availabili­ty attributes of the Super Hornet, it ensures that the Navy is able to reliably provide entire strike packages required ‘go–no go’ jamming effects. The EA-6B must have a start cart to fire up and typically there is a large party of maintenanc­e technician­s around the jet for troublesho­oting support when the crew mans the jet and lights the engines. In the Growler, we hop in, fire up the APU, and are out of the chocks in minimum time. We understood the EA-6B and Super Hornets well, and that helped us make the transition smoothly from Super Hornets and Prowlers to the Growler.”

LCDR Mike “Rocky” Kinsella is a Growler pilot and previously flew EA-6Bs. He made deployment­s to both Afghanista­n and Iraq. When asked about the EA-18G, he stated, “Compared to the Prowler, the Growler brings a lot more sensors to the fight. With Growlers on carriers now, we have better reliabilit­y, enhanced maintainab­ility, and part commonalit­y. By design, they tried to make as few airframe changes so the EA18G and F/A-18F are still physically close. Since we have more sensors in the Growler, that gives us both great air-to-air and airto-ground Situationa­l Awareness (SA), we can get close to threats and perform very effectivel­y. That equates to being able to get closer and be on station longer than the Prowler currently can. Our standoff distance however would be about the same due to the ALQ-99 being the limiting factor.”

Major Brandon “Britches” Brooks (USMC) is an EA-18G EWO and had been an EA6B Prowler ECMO for years. He pitched in, “The Growler is more survivable than the Prowler and with better SA, the air-to-air capability, and numerous sensors, it makes an excellent jet for the job.”

The Growler’s Long-term Outlook

The EA-18G is a spiral developmen­t program, meaning the aircraft are upgraded as they mature while in fleet service.

The first fleet unit to receive Growlers

(Block 0 versions) was VAQ-132, and was followed by VAQ-132, and then VAQ-141. Each operationa­l fleet Growler unit has five aircraft assigned, a change from the four EA-6Bs assigned per unit now. There are some Navy land-based expedition­ary Growler units also; that had been the same within the Prowler community, however, the majority of EA-18G units are carrierbas­ed. Numerous and ongoing software upgrades are being made on a routine basis.

The ALQ-99 is an older system by today’s standards; it is complicate­d and a bit temperamen­tal. Currently in testing now, the AN/ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) is solid-state, adds additional power, is more capable and reliable, with the PMA234 program office having headed up the system. The AGM-88 HARM has been a proven performer in SEAD missions and is the Growler’s SEAD weapon of choice. A new and improved version, designated the AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced AntiRadiat­ion Guided Missile), has been developed. They are now in use, and even a longer-range variant, the AGM-88G AARGM-ER (Extended Range), is in the works and being explored.

And not only has the U.S. Navy been an operator, but the Royal Australian Air Force (No. 6 Squadron from RAAF Base Amberley) has a total planned buy of 24 Growlers and has already been flying them around the world for exercises. In addition to the AMRAAM missiles, the Aussies’ Growlers can also carry the AIM-9X Sidewinder airto-air missiles.

While the EA-6B has faithfully served the nation for decades, it became tired and was very maintenanc­e-intensive. The numbers also had dwindled due to attrition and airframe life. March 2019 was the last flight of a Prowler, a U.S. Marine Corps

ICAP III EA-6B version. The Marines are not procuring any EA-18G, but plan to use the F-35 as replacemen­t jammer aircraft for their EA-6Bs. Joint operations are also more commonplac­e than ever, so the U.S. Navy EA-18G community would likely be tapped for support in certain scenarios.

The Growler brings a lot to the table and was a natural replacemen­t for the Prowler. As time marches on, so will the Growler’s capabiliti­es. The time was right to move on to a new contempora­ry and more capable EA jet for use on carriers, and the Growler is just that.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? The EA-18G is essentiall­y a derivative of the very capable F/A-18F Super Hornet. Coupled with its unique electronic capabiliti­es and using the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, the Growler can become a force multiplier and engage in the air-to-air role alongside other friendly tactical fighter platforms.
The EA-18G is essentiall­y a derivative of the very capable F/A-18F Super Hornet. Coupled with its unique electronic capabiliti­es and using the AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, the Growler can become a force multiplier and engage in the air-to-air role alongside other friendly tactical fighter platforms.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States