EA-18G Growler, meet US Navy's advanced electronic attack aircraft

Navy EA18G Growler electronic attack
US Navy EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft deploys flares during an air power demonstration.

The EF-18G Growler is currently a major target for aviation enthusiasts and media across Europe thanks to the US Navy’s temporary deployment of the type at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Every day many spotters gather outside the base fence to take photos of one of the most unique fighter aircraft in the world.

The EA-18G Growler is a variant in the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the proven F/A-18F Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite. Built to replace the EA-6B Prowler, the Growler is the first newly-designed electronic warfare aircraft produced in more than 35 years. The aircraft also retains all of the F/A-18E/F’s multi-mission capabilities with its validated design and the capability to perform a wide range of enemy defense suppression missions.

Within the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy is the Growler’s sole operator, although the EA-18G is cooperatively operated with the Royal Australian Air Force.


Navy EA18G Growler electronic attack

The EA-18G Growler is fitted with up to three AN/ALQ-99 radar jamming pods, together with an AN/ALQ-218(V)2 receiver and Raytheon AN/ALQ-227 communications countermeasures system, both of which are mounted in the bay previously designated as the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft’s gun bay. The AN/ALQ-99 receivers are installed in the tail of the aircraft and the AN/ALQ-99 pod houses the exciters and high radiated power jamming transmitters.

The long-serving ALQ-99 pods will soon be replaced by the AN/ALQ-249, the Next Generation Jamming Pod, which is currently in development.

Along with the electronic attack suite, the Growler also features the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which provides air-to-air and air-to-ground capability with detection, targeting, tracking and protection modes.


The aircraft is armed with the AIM-120 AMRAAM advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles and AGM-88 HARM high-speed anti-radiation missiles.

In surveillance-only configuration, the Growler is armed with two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles for self-defence. For stand-off jamming and escort jamming missions, the Growler is armed with two AGM-88 anti-radiation missiles plus two AIM-120 missiles.

In strike configuration, the Growler is armed with two each of AGM-88 HARM missiles, AGM-154 JSOW joint stand-off weapon (Block 2 aircraft) and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles. While carrying out active transmitting jamming, the Block 2 aircraft has the ability to hand off-target data to other airborne, land or surface attack platforms.


Navy EA18G Growler electronic attack

The first Growler test aircraft went into production in October 2004 and made its first flight in August 2006.

The extensive commonality between the F/A-18E/F and the EA-18G Growler, as well as its flexible platform, gives the Growler much-needed room for future upgrades and growth.

The first production aircraft was delivered June 3, 2008, to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129, the Growler Fleet Replacement Squadron, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island in Washington. Initial operational capability and full rate production followed in fall 2009. In 2010, three squadrons, VAQ-132, 141 and 138, transitioned from the Prowler to the Growler and were declared safe-for-flight.

In the last fifteen years, the EA-18G Growler has spanned the globe in support of all major and rapid reaction action. The Growler’s first baptism of fire came with Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya 2011.

Five U.S. Navy Expeditionary VAQ squadrons uniquely support U.S. Air Force and Navy shore-based operations. All EA-18G squadrons are stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, with the exception of one squadron (VAQ-141) attached to CVW-5, Forward Deployed Naval Force, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.

The Growler Capability Modification (GCM) Program, the first major effort to upgrade EA-18G capabilities in the history of the program, commenced at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, in March 2021. The multi-year program is comprised of various engineering change proposals across several of the aircraft’s systems in common with the F/A-18E/F Block III. GCM will also provide the warfighter with a significant leap in electronic warfare capability to improve combat support for the Joint U.S. and Allied forces, which includes integration of the Next Generation Jammer-Mid Band.

Growler Block II (GB2) is currently in development and will include spiral (phase-based) improvements. GB2 Phase 1 will provide dramatic upgrades to aircraft processing and electronic warfare algorithms, alongside additional upgrades like the Advanced Cockpit System. These enhancements to the Airborne Electronic Attack suite will enable the EA-18G to outpace current threats and maintain the lead throughout its planned lifecycle.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Source, Images: US Navy

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