The Boeing E/A-18G Growler is the US Navy’s electronic warfare variant of the 2 seat F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role attack fighter. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state is home to the Pacific Electronic Attack Wing operating both the Growler and the older Grumman EA-6B Prowler. When not operating from aircraft carriers the squadrons based there include the Vikings, Zappers, Scorpions, Wizards, Black Ravens, Gray Wolves and Shadow Hawks. A couple of these aircraft from Electronic Attack Squadron 129 (VAQ-129) Vikings made an appearance at the Joint Base Lewis McChord Air Expo 2012 in July.
Despite often seeing Growlers flying about the skies above Seattle, this was the first time I had seen them up close. The most notable difference between the two-seat Super Hornet and Growler are the external AN/ALQ-99 electronic warfare systems pods fitted to weapons pylons and the wing tip missile rails have been replaced with AN/ALQ-218 detection pods on the Growler (they can also continue to carry conventional weapons for self-defence and attack such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM air to air missile and AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile).
The Royal Australian Air Force has recently purchased a Growler package to be equipped to 12 of their 24 Super Hornets. I look forward to seeing one grace the skies at home some day.
3 US Navy Growlers and crew from the VAQ-132 Scorpions squadron are currently in Australia at the RAAF Amberley Airbase in Queensland for “Operation Growler 2012” to train RAAF pilots in the use of the electronic warfare systems and the tactics to best use them to suppress enemy air defences; and jam electronic devices and communications. I saw an Australian news story on this training and the US pilot described the Growlers mission as “Deny, degrade and deceive” which I think sums up the capability of the aircraft perfectly!