With new generations of large, electronically scanned array radars designed for sophisticated air defences proliferating across major aerospace powers, stealth aircraft designs will be compelled to weave through a narrowing number of gaps in coverage, requiring more reliance on electronic warfare and attack to disable, distract or “fool” the new generation of air defences with less emphasis on stealthy airframe designs. Based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Washington State and capable of operating from either an aircraft carrier or from land-bases, the Boeing EA- 18G Growler, itself a heavier derivative of the combat-proven two-seat F/A- 18F Super Hornet (with a variant of Northrop Grumman’s in-production Improved Capabilities (ICAP) – III Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) system) is an airborne electronic attack aircraft designed and developed as replacement for the United States Navy (USN) EA-6B Prowler aircraft. One of the external visual differences are the AN/ALQ-218 wideband receiver pods on the EA-18 Growler in place of wingtip air-to-air missiles on the F/A-18F. Vital missions include Electronic Attack (EA) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD), particularly at the opening stages of hostilities. The first EA- 18G for fleet use was officially accepted by VAQ-129 ‘Vikings’ at NAS Whidbey Island on 3 June 2008, the aircraft’s first test flight successfully completed in August 2006 followed by delivery of the fi rst two test aircraft to the USN in September and November 2006. The first production aircraft was delivered to the USN in September 2007. Th e fi rst operational aircraft was delivered to NAS Whidbey Island in June 2008 and operational evaluation began in October 2008 onboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74).
The SDD programme was scheduled to achieve initial operational capability in late 2009 when the first of ten electronic attack squadrons (VAQ) began EA-18G operations. The USN expects to acquire eighty-five EA-18G Growlers to be based at NAS Whidbey Island and equip twelve fleet squadrons plus a training squadron. The Royal Australian Air Force operates eleven EA-18G platforms, entering service in 2017. The aircraft will carry out a range of missions including stand-off and escort jamming, surveillance and strike. The aircraft is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400 afterburning turbofan engines, rated at 62kN or 98kN with afterburner alongside a titanium engine firewall incorporated into the aircraft structure. The Growler is fitted with up to three EDO Corporation AN/ALQ-99 high & low-band tactical radar jamming pods; a maximum of five can be carried during exigencies. AN/ALQ-99 houses the exciters and the high radiated power jamming transmitters (additionally capable of fi ring sophisticated data streams into enemy emitters) together with AN/ALQ-218(V) 2 wideband receivers and a Raytheon AN/ ALQ-227 communications countermeasures system both of which are mounted in the bay previously designated as the F/A-18F gun bay plus ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser. Pentagon officials avoid defining the “full spectrum” phrase, but it includes the ability to create false targets, speeds, altitudes and locations, invade enemy communications networks to see what enemy sensors see, and perhaps mine intelligence and plant pass false information.