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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From Prowler to Growler: Tactical Electronic Warfare Takes Step Forward With Adoption of New Jet

By Carmelo Turdo
The United States Navy is in the process of upgrading and deploying a new generation of tactical electronic warfare aircraft - the Boeing EA-18G Growler.  The Growler, operational since October of 2009, will replace the previous generation aircraft, the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, in fleet service in the coming years.  Boeing produces the aircraft on the Super Hornet production line in St. Louis at Lambert St. Louis International Airport, and local residents can witness Growler production test flights regularly.  The Aero Experience joined members of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society at their monthly meeting last week to learn more about the aircraft and its current service record from guest speaker U.S. Navy Captain Dana Perkins. 

Captain Perkins currently serves as U.S. Naval Reserve Assistant Chief of Staff and instructor at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, NAS Fallon, Nevada and as a Boeing Flight Operations Weapons System Officer for production test flights of Boeing tactical aircraft in St. Louis.  Perkins has experience flying in the Grumman Prowler as Squadron Commander of Naval Reserve Squadron VAQ-209 "Star Warriors" then flying out of Joint base Andrews, MD  (VAQ-209 is now located at NAS Whidbey Island, WA equipped with Growlers).  Captain Perkins and his crew made a short refueling stop at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in January, 2012, and The Aero Experience was there to meet the crew and record these images about a year before the squadron began its transition to Growlers.     

The Boeing EA-18G Growler

(Boeing photo)

Captain Perkins presented the current state of Growler development and deployment to U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve units (the U.S. Marines currently have no plans to replace the EA-6B Prowler after its retirement in the next five years).  Production standard for the Growler began with Lot 28 Super Hornet (now on Lot 37), with modifications to transform the fighter/attack aircraft to the electronic warfare platform with weapons delivery capability.  There are 138 airframes of record, with additional aircraft for Australia.  The 20mm cannon in the nose was replaced with additional avionics, and a fully-integrated sensor suite including the ALQ-218 receivers on the wingtips, the ALQ-99 high and low frequency jammer pods and the APG-79 Radar to engage the air-to-air and air-to-ground threat environment.  The Growler retains self-defense capability and can attack ground targets with HARM missiles if necessary.  The number of crew was reduced from four in the Prowler to two in the newer-generation Growler through digital avionics upgrades that automated processes formerly performed manually by separate crew members.  Additionally, the Growler cockpit features the heads-up display (HUD) and the helmet-mounted cueing system that projects the target information on the pilot's visor for immediate action.
(Flight Global graphic)

A section (2-ship) of Growlers typically fly a 1.5hr mission (or longer with air-to-air refueling).  During a training mission, each aircraft usually has one experienced crewman and one who is relatively new to the type.  The U.S. Air Force also provides exchange crews to operate with the Navy units.  The mission may call for jamming radar and communications of enemy single point targets or barrage jamming of an area, with multiple-threat tracking (the aircraft jams receivers, not the transmission source).  Captain Perkins referred to the mission objective as "Deny, degrade or deceive" the enemy through electronic attack.  Said another way, he defined the overall mission of the Growler as “Influencing the Electromagnetic Spectrum to deny the enemy free reign.  We use all our information to figure out where the enemy is using the electromagnetic spectrum, and then we decide how we’re either going to exploit or deny that capability.”  Not every mission ends with the destruction of the enemy target - it may be enough to shut the enemy installation down for a period or use it to gather intelligence rather than eliminate it outright.   

Some missions are designed to gather threat information.  This is referred to as conditioning the battle space.  "Fly over the same spot, same time of day, same technique, and he (the enemy) has the same reaction," Captain Perkins continued.  "Now we are learning about the battle space, getting that expected response.   And based on the expected response, we set up tactics and techniques to exploit those responses.”  After a series of probing missions, then the attack force can eliminate the threat if necessary.

(Boeing graphic)

The Growler stands to benefit from Boeing's Advanced Super Hornet upgrade initiative as reported by The Aero Experience in August 2013.   The Growler community will benefit greatly from implementation of the General Electric F414 engine upgrades that project a 20% increase in thrust while delivering a 2% overall fuel savings.  The Northrop-Grumman designed conformal fuel tanks (the aerodynamic forms only were tested last year) offer an additional 3500lbs of fuel, eliminating the need for the conventional external fuel tank on the centerline station.  Initial tests predict no drag penalty when compared to an aircraft without a center station fuel tank.  Additional improvements, including the next-generation jammer and AESA Radar upgrades, will directly impact the Growler's mission.  These upgrades can be made at depot-level maintenance on Super Hornets and Growlers, not by taking the aircraft out of service and sending it back to the factory for an extended period.   

(Boeing graphic)




The Missouri Aviation Historical Society (MAHS) was privileged to host Captain Perkins and thank him for his outstanding presentation.  Following the program, Captain Perkins was given a copy of the book, The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet & EA-18G Growler: A Developmental and Operational History, by author Brad Elward, who was visiting from Peoria, IL. 

Captain Perkins, MAHS President Dan O'Hara and Brad Elward


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