US Navy EA-18G Growlers complete first combat deployment

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US Navy Boeing EA-18G Growlers have returned home to the United States after completing an eight-month deployment, that included combat operations over Iraq and Libya.

Growlers from Navy electronic attack squadron 132 (VAQ-132) ‘Scorpions’ safely returned to their home base at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, on July 9, Boeing said.

Since April 4, five Growlers had been supporting NATO operations over Libya, mostly by escorting fighters on strike missions. The Scorpion’s aircraft flew 700 missions in the new aircraft. Libya operations mark the Growler’s combat debut.

During the deployment, VAQ-132’s personnel and aircraft supported US Central Command (Centcom) operations in Iraq before quickly transitioning to US Africa Command (Africom) to conduct operations supporting NATO in Libya. Whilst operating against Libya, the Growlers were based at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Additional EA-18Gs are deployed with electronic attack squadron VAQ-141 aboard the USS George HW Bush (CVN77) aircraft carrier, marking the aircraft’s first sea-based deployment. VAQ-141 is expected to conduct support missions as part of Carrier Air Wing Eight in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions.

A third electronic attack squadron, VAQ-138, recently deployed to a land-based location.
“Our job is to control the electromagnetic spectrum over the battlefield,” Captain Mark W Darrah, Growler program manager for the Navy, told the Vancouver Sun. “The only way you know if an electronic attack was successful is if every plane returns safely from their missions.” The proof of its success in Libya, he said, is that NATO has carried out 5,000 strike missions and no aircraft has been shot down.
“It’s a very exciting accomplishment for the Navy and for our nation to have the Growler in the fleet — on time, on cost, and with the performance that was expected. What we’re hearing from the fleet is that the young lieutenants and lieutenant commanders who are flying the aircraft are, just as we thought, taking advantage of the capabilities of the Block 2 Super Hornet to make the jet more effective,” said Captain Mark Darrah, F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager. “We’re looking forward to more feedback from the fleet in order to continue developing exciting capabilities for the aircraft.”
“Boeing is honoured to support the Navy and the service members operating and maintaining the new EA-18G Growler,” said Kory Mathews, Boeing F/A-18 and EA-18 Programs vice president. “As we join the Navy in celebrating its first 100 years of aviation success, the service continues to achieve milestones that will stand out for decades to come.”

The EA-18G delivers full-spectrum airborne electronic attack (AEA) capability along with the targeting and self-defence capabilities derived from the Navy’s frontline fighter, the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet.

A derivative of the two-seat F/A-18F Block II, the EA-18G’s highly flexible design enables warfighters to operate either from the deck of an aircraft carrier or from land-based airfields. It is replacing the Navy’s current AEA platform, the EA-6B Prowler, which has been in service since 1971. The EA-18G joined the Navy’s aircraft fleet in 2008, when it was introduced to fleet training squadron VAQ-129.

With a price tag of about US$74 million each, the Growler is a showpiece of American electronic know-how, with high-powered radar systems made by Raytheon and tactical radar jammers produced by ITT Electronic Systems and Northrop Grumman.

The US Navy is seeking an additional US$1.1 billion for 12 more Growlers.