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Is the E-15 Era the Navy’s Most Important Aircraft Secret, Second Only to the F-35?

The EA-18G Growler: The Navy’s Electronic Warfare Specialist

The EA-18G Growler is no bomber, no fancy fighter jet, and looks like another fighter jet we all know and love. And yet, the Growler is a very important plane for the Navy. Here is how it is explained, and why it is extraordinary:

At a glance, the Boeing EA-18G Growler looks just like the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The fuselage is familiar. The canopy is familiar. The flight surfaces are familiar. But upon closer inspection, the Growler reveals itself as a distinct aircraft – carefully formed from the Super Hornet, yet not quite the same. And while the Super Hornet is a multirole fighter, capable of conducting a wide array of mission profiles, the Growler is more specialized – as reflected in the aircraft’s design tweaks.

The Growler Forges Its Own Identity

The Growler is of course directly descended from the Super Hornet; the two share 90 percent commonality. The modified Growler shares similar flight performance characteristics with the Super Hornet, which is functional and intentional, allowing the Growler to adapt Super Hornet’s design tweaks for electronic warfare purposes.

The EA-18G Growler was redeployed slightly to allow the jet more agility for electronic warfare, which, in turn, would allow for more effective electronic countermeasures. Thanks to this endeavor, Boeing adjusted the Growler’s leading-edge flaps and wing flaps for more effective electronic warfare.

Developed Post-9/11

Since 2009, the EA-18G Growler has been the U.S. Navy’s premier carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft. The Growler’s development began in 2001 when, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Boeing tested a F/A-18 fitted with an ALQ-99 electronic warfare system, the specialized outfit of the Super Hornet designed for electronic attack (EA) operations.

The ALQ-99 is an integrated jamming system. Designed by EDO Corporation, the ALQ-99 includes receiver equipment and antennas that provide real-time jamming of enemy radar signals. The system can intercept, process, and jam radar signals, helping the Growler deceive radar systems. Additionally, it can detect, identify, and direct-find threats in real-time, thus gathering signals intelligence (SIGINT). Capable of producing 6.8 kilowatts of power, the ALQ-99 relies on its own ram air turbine for power generation. The system is highly versatile; it can intercept, process, and direct jam radio signals in pods. Recently upgraded Growlers have also been outfitted with Raytheon’s Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) cameras, which use a thermographic camera to sense infrared radiation.

The EA-18G Growler entered its current deployment in 2011, enforcing a UN no-fly zone over Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn. To date, the Growler has not had the extensive combat experience of its ancestor, the F/A-18. Nevertheless, electronic warfare remains proudly at the forefront of Navy squadron priorities, as seen through the Navy’s 172 Growlers.

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