THE GROWLER
Flight Journal|March - April 2021
Boeing’s electronic attack weapon
TED CARLSON
Unarguably, the EA-6B Prowler has been a solid performer in its niche role of Electronic Attack (EA) over the years. The aging Prowler was tired, it now has been put out to pasture, and its replacement has made its debut in the form of the Boeing EA-18G Growler. It looks a bit like the F/A18F Super Hornet on steroids, with unique wingtip pods that house secretive electronic gear. The primary role of the EA-18G is much different than that of a traditional Super Hornet, however. The Growler is contemporary, more reliable, and more capable than its predecessor. However, one cannot tell the Growler story without also bringing the successful Prowler to light and looking at where the EA-18G’s roots evolved.

The EA-18G

Based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the EA-18G has roughly 80 percent in common with the F-model Super Hornet with Northrup Grumman’s integrated mission electronics packages. The notable external differences include special wingtip pods, the addition of various fuselage and spine antennas, wing fences, and a different wing leading edge. EA-18Gs are all two-place aircraft, consisting of a pilot and back seat Naval Flight Officer, known as an Electronics Warfare Officer (EWO). The majority of the senior EWOs came from the Prowler communities since they are both seasoned and there has been an excess of ECMOs (Electronic Countermeasure Officers) within Prowler units during the aircraft transition. Pilots came from both the EA-6B and Super Hornet communities.

The Growler retains the state-of-the-art AN/APG-79 AESA radar and MIDS/LINK 16 of the Super Hornet, but the 20mm canon had to be removed to house additional electronics inside the gun bay. Based on the Growler’s mission, the likelihood of having to use the 20mm is slim, anyway. Other internal avionics bays around the jet have been stuffed with new electronics as well. The AESA radar, with its ground-mapping capability and coupled with the Growler’s electronic suite, brings robust tactical capabilities to the table. Using MIDS and EA18G Data Correlation Mechanization (EDCM), crews can view the map of the battlefield, electronic, ground, and air “orders of battle.” That information can also be disseminated to other assets in real time. The front and rear cockpits are physically identical to the F/A-18F but have additional specialized Growler menus the crew can toggle through for jamming, EA and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) roles.

The ALQ-99 jamming system is the Growler’s main weapon of choice, and only two types of aircraft (EA-18G and EA-6B) are compatible with the system and pods. The same AN/ALQ-218(V)2 ESM receivers that reside in the ICAP III EA6B’s “football” tail fairing was essentially relocated to the EA-18G wingtip pods and is proven, effective technology. The aircraft contains a Multi-mission Advanced Tactical Terminal system (MATT) that is a satellite communication and linking device. Another useful enhancement is the INCANS (Interference Cancellation System), essentially a system that allows the use of radios when a jamming system is employed.

Crews can fly using the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System). The JHMCS provides excellent situational awareness, enhancing both air-to-air and air-to-ground information via a specialized helmet and visor. Pilots must fly a trio of JHMCS flights to become fully qualified on the system.

So, what were the advantages of the Prowler over the Growler? The only electronic system the Prowler has that the Growler doesn’t have is the USQ-113 communication jammer, but the Growler can employ one of the ALQ-99 pods for use in that role. In general, the Prowler (with its three ECMOs versus the EWO and pilot of the Growler) was more reactive due to the combined synergies of three individuals allowing for greater flexibility. However, there are some advantages of having fewer people, with one example being less chatter that may reduce confusion. With a smaller crew, Growler crew mission planning is much more important and is thus a greater emphasis is put on that stage of the mission.

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