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EA-18G Growler: How the Navy Plans to Blind the Enemy in a War

EA-18G Growler. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
EA-18G Growler. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Forget about the F-35 for a moment. Without the EA-18G Growler, the US Navy would have an awful time conducting aircraft carrier operations. Here’s why: You’re not engaging in aircraft carrier-based air combat without electronic warfare and jamming of enemy air defenses. That’s where the U.S. Navy’s EA-18G Growler comes in.

This airplane provides an important role in creating a safe path for follow-on attack aircraft that are trying to evade enemy radar and surface-to-air missiles. You know it’s tried and true in warfare because it’s a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet. Now another defense contractor just received a contract modification to upgrade its suite of sensors, which will keep the Growler in business for the foreseeable future.

EA-18G Growler: A Short History

The Growler is a relatively new airplane.

It was the next-generation naval electronic countermeasures aircraft after the EA-6B Prowler began its path to retirement that ended in 2019.

Boeing got the contract for the EA-18G Growler, and it first flew in 2006.

Then the initial operational model was delivered to the navy in 2008. By 2009, it was stationed onboard the USS John C. Stennis.

Built for Speed and Maneuverability

The thing that makes the Growler great is its F/A-18F airframe. This makes it a faster and more agile electronic warfare jet than previous models that were based on transport airplanes.

Powerful Engines Make It Formidable

Two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines generate 44,000 pounds of thrust. The Growler has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and a range of 975 miles with external fuel tanks.

Enemy Will Be Confused and Blind

The idea is for the Growler to neutralize enemy radar and air defenses. It achieves this with the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar that has passive detection mode and active radar suppression, along with a digital radar warning receiver, and a countermeasures distributor.

It Can Even Be Used as a Strike Fighter

Don’t think this aircraft is unarmed.

It can defend itself with two AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs) along with the two AIM-120 missiles. The back-seat weapons systems officer is in charge of these munitions.

Growler Knows How to Collect and Crunch Data

An intriguing aspect of the EA-18 Growler is that it is a data-collecting machine.

Not only does it penetrate air defenses quickly, but it can find the location of enemy communications, jam them, then record what the adversary is saying.

This data is sent back to other aircraft like early-warning birds such as the E-2 Hawkeye and later exploited for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) analytics.

The Growler also works to make sure friendly communication is not exploited by the enemy.

Defense Contractors Have Improvements in Mind

These capabilities are only going to get better. Boeing has agreed to deliver a five-year Growler modification program that improves the data collection even further. The upgrade will strengthen the EA-18G’s ability to transfer information to other airplanes. Processing of the ISR data will be better.

Raytheon is also providing the Growler with the Next Generation Jammer. This will give electronic warfare activities extended range and ensure it can engage more targets at the same time.

The Growler is only going to improve over time since it is based on a versatile platform. To further demonstrate its value, The Department of Defense is doubling down on the Growler. The Navy said in an announcement early this month that it will modernize sensor hardware and software for the EA-18G Growler through a $71.4 million contract modification.

The Air Force Wants Its Own Growler and Congress Agrees

The DOD likes the Growler so much that it is transferring the concept to the Air Force. It’s about time the Air Force had this capability as well. The FY22 National Defense Authorization Act has an appropriation set aside to outfit existing Air Force fighters with the Next Generation Jammer. The Air Force currently lacks its own version of the Growler, and this will change over time.

EA-18G Growler: A Versatile Multi-role Electronic Warfare Airplane

With the EA-18G Growler, a carrier battle group has many options. It can send the airplane out on patrols to collect intelligence. In a potential conflict, it will create a safe path for attack aircraft such as the Super Hornet. It can communicate with the E-2 Hawkeye while snooping enemy communications. It will be the number one airplane for an aerial battle scenario in East Asia.

Electronic warfare and suppression of enemy air defenses is an absolute necessity in 21st Century warfare. The Navy should feel blessed that it has the EA-18G Growler’s eyes and ears out in front of a carrier battle group. It can not only jam and neutralize enemy radar and weapons systems, but it can also collect their communications This data exploitation is one thing that makes the Growler unique, and it is only going to get better with the various modifications and upgrades in store over the coming years.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.