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Boeing has inducted the first EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft at the start of a planned five-year modification program that will lay the bedrock for a host of future upgrades for the type in U.S. Navy service. Growlers serve a critical role in jamming radars and the communications signals of enemy forces, disabling their ability to detect and track U.S. and allied forces. The first Growler scheduled for so-called Block II modernization was moved into an upgrade facility at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, on March 19, 2021 — ready to receive new capabilities that are in line with new Block III enhancements being introduced for the Super Hornet.
The first production EA-18G to be delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2007 is the first of a planned 160 Growlers that will receive Block II modifications, a new baseline capability that will underpin a series of major improvements on the original standard of EA-18G, this includes the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) systems. The Block II upgrades are focused on updating the Growler’s hardware and mission systems architecture, enabling future capability growth across the fleet. Elements drawn from the Super Hornet Block III include the new Large Area Display in both cockpits.
“We’re excited to have the Growler industry team here working on capabilities that will bring the fleet enhanced electronic surveillance, enhanced data link, and the ability to carry the Next Generation Jammer pod,” commented Capt Chris “Needles” Bahner, commander, Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “We look forward to being a cooperative partner with PMA-265 and PMA-234 at Naval Air Systems Command and the Growler industry team on this exciting work.”
The Navy released a sources-sought notice on Jan. 28, 2019, seeking contractors to support system development and integration of the Block II Growler. Following contract awards in October 2020 and February 2021, Boeing is leading the modification work, which includes a new electronic attack unit with an upgraded AN/ALQ-218(v)4 radio frequency receiver system. This adds the Airborne Electronic Attack System Enhancements modification, enabling the Growler to operate in increasingly complex electromagnetic environments. The program will also provide the Growler with an improved AN/ALQ-227(v)2 communication countermeasures set.
Additional modifications will expand the Growler’s information transfer pipeline for more rapid and secure data transfer to other aircraft and platforms as well as substantially improving the speed of data processing. The Growler features a new open architecture processor and advanced networking including the Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N) and the Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) that helps connect it with the Block III Super Hornet and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
Under a separate program, the Growler will receive the Raytheon AN/ALQ-249 NGJ Mid-band (NGJ-MB), which will replace the legacy AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods that were ported across from its predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler. NGJ-MB is slated to achieve early operational capability (EOC) on the EA-18G by Fiscal Year 2022. A new, low-band jammer will follow, with Northrop Grumman and L3Harris competing for this work.
“As the world’s premier electronic attack platform, we’re starting this program for the EA-18G Growler in solid partnership with the Navy,” Mark Sears, Boeing vice president of fighters and strike product support, said while commenting on Block II. “These modifications will position it to meet the threats of today and those in the future.”
The program schedule forecasts that all Navy Growlers will be modified to Block II standard in five years, according to Boeing, with full rate modification expected to start in June 2021. Boeing has positioned people on-site at Whidbey, following state, local, customer and corporate COVID protocols, to ensure the program is fully staffed to support the work.