The Grumman EA-6B Prowler four-seat electronic countermeasures aircraft has been flying since the mid-1960s, and is by now beginning to show signs of age. Not only are the airframes getting old, but even more hours were added when the aircraft assumed the jammer mission of the EF-111A Raven after it was retired from service. Many Prowlers will soon be forced out of service as the airframes reach the end of their fatigue lives.
McDonnell Douglas proposed a version of the F/A-18F two seat Super Hornet as a possible replacement for the Prowler. Because of advances in computers and electronics, it was thought possible that only a crew of two rather than four would be sufficient, and that the five ALQ-99 pods of the Prowler could be replaced by a single multi-band jamming pod.
However, the new pod promised to be quite expensive, so the Navy asked Boeing (which had recently acquired McDonnell Douglas) to try to incorporate the proposed ICAP-III technologies then planned for the Prowler. As well as the ALQ-99 pods, a key component is the ALQ-218 receiver suite, while teh MIDS/Link 16 will be enhanced with additional functions. The first models will initially be equipped with the APG-73 radar, and will later be retrofitted with the APG-79 AESA.
The EA-18G is 90 percent common with the Block II F/A-18F, with most of the changes being in the software. In fact, all F models beginning with Lot 30 will be structurally reconfigured to be able to accommodate G equipment, which will make it possible if necessary to convert F models into Gs, although the Navy has decided that once an F has been converted to a G, it will not be converted back.
The wingtip Sidewinder missiles would be replaced by multi-band receivers, and several low-band electronic surveillance antennae would be added. The aircraft became known as the EA-18G "Growler", although the popular name "Growler" is not official. In December of 2002, the Navy formally accepted the EA-18G as the Prowler replacement. Boeing will be the prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman being responisble for integrating the electronic warfare suite.
The EA-18Gs are able to fly the same mission profiles as F/A-18E/F strike aircraft. Unlike the Prowler, the EA-18G will be able to carry and deliver offensive weapons in addition to its electronic warfare role. These will include HARM missiles to attack surface targets and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles to deal with enemy aircraft. However, the EA-18G will not carry the internal cannon. Later versions may be able to carry JSOW and JASSM.
An EMD F/A-18F has been dedicated to the EA-18G program. It was fitted with 3 instrumented ALQ-99 pods and two 480-US gallon tanks.
Production of at least 90 EA-18Gs is planned for the US Navy. The US Marine Corps may join the program at a later date. The Navy plans to acquire 10 squadrons of EA-18Gs, one for each carrier air wing plus one fleet readiness squadron The first 2 test aircraft were F/A-18Fs pulled from the production line at St Louis and modified by Boeing to the EA-18G configuration. The first test aircraft, known as EA-1 was rolled out Aug 3, 2006 and made its maiden flight at St Louis Aug 15, 2006. It was ferried to NAS Patuxent River, MD Sep 22, 2006. It was primariy used for ground testing. EA-2 first flew Nov 10, 2006, and was delivered to NAS Patuxnt river Nov 29, 2006.
The Navy has ordered a total of 114 Growlers to replace its EA-6B Prowlers. The EA-18G entered production in 2007, and entered operational service with VAQ-129 "Vikings" at NAS Whidbey Island Jun 3, 2008. VAW-132 "Scorpions" acchieved operational status in Oct 2009. It made its first operational deployment feb 17, 2011. By May 2011, 48 Growlers had been delivered.
The Growler was first used in combat during Operation Odyssey Dawn, enforcing the UN-imposed no-fly zone over Libya.
The Australian government plans to acquire up to six EA-18Gs, which would be part of an order for 24 F/A-18Fs. Later, it was decided that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets would be wired on the production line.for future conversion to EA-18Gs. On May 3, 2013, the Australian government anounced that it will buy 12 new-built Growlers. The first one was delivered Jul 29, 2015.
US Navy Squadrons operating the EA-18G:
Serials of EF-18G Growlers