The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an American carrier-based electronic warfare aircraft, a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet. The EA-18G replaced the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers in service with the United States Navy. The Growler's electronic warfare capability is primarily provided by Northrop Grumman. The EA-18G began production in 2007 and entered operational service in late 2009.
The Growler's flight performance is similar to that of the F/A-18E/F. This attribute enables the Growler to perform escort jamming as well as the traditional standoff jamming mission (Radar jamming and deception). Growlers will be able to accompany F/A-18s during all phases of an attack mission. In order to give the Growler more stable flight for the electronic warfare mission, Boeing changed the leading edge fairings and wing fold hinge fairings, and added wing fences and aileron "tripper strips".
The Growler has more than 90% in common with the standard Super Hornet, sharing airframe, Raytheon AN/APG-79 AESA radar and weapon systems such as the AN/AYK-22 stores management system. Most of the dedicated airborne electronic attack equipment is mounted in the space that used to house the internal 20 mm cannon and on the wingtips. Nine weapons stations remain free to provide for additional weapons or jamming pods.
The added electronics include AN/ALQ-218 wideband receivers on the wingtips, and ALQ-99 high and low-band tactical jamming pods. The ALQ-218 combined with the ALQ-99 form a full spectrum electronic warfare suite that is able to provide detection and jamming against all known surface-to-air threats.However the current pods may be inadequate against emerging threats.
The EA-18G can be fitted with up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods and will typically add two AIM-120 AMRAAM or AGM-88 HARM missiles. The EA-18G will also use the INCANS Interference Cancellation system that will allow voice communication while jamming enemy communications, a capability not available on the EA-6B. In addition to the radar warning and jamming equipment the Growler possesses a communications receiver and jamming system that will provide suppression and electronic attack against airborne communication threats.
The poor reliability of the ALQ-99 jammer pod and frequent failures of the Built In Test (BIT) have caused crew to fly missions with undetected faults. The ALQ-99 has also interfered with the aircraft's AESA radar, and has imposed a high workload on the two-man crew, along with reducing the Growler's top speed.
Boeing is looking into other potential upgrades; the ALQ-99 radar jamming pod may be replaced in the future, and the company is looking into adding weapons and replacing the satellite communications receiver. The Growler is the initial platform for the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) which uses Active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology to focus jamming power exactly where needed. The NGJ was to be implemented on the F-35. However, in May 2012, the U.S. Navy decided to focus NGJ integration on the EA-18G for an expected in-service date of 2020, and defer work for the F-35.
Three Growlers networked together can generate targeting tracks for hostile radio-frequency sources in real time, but this is difficult to arrange with the current minimum strength US Navy squadrons. Utilizing faster data-links, the Growler could use its EW pods to accurately locate signal sources. In a group of three planes, when one detects a signal from a source such as a cellphone, the other two can also listen for the same signal, all three measuring the amount of time taken for transmissions to travel from the source to each aircraft to triangulate the location in "a very, very small area." By early 2015, the Navy had demonstrated this concept using EA-18s equipped with Rockwell Collins' tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) and ALQ-218 receivers to acquire emissions from a target vessel and target it from a stand-off range without using their own detectable radar emissions. Boeing announced on 1 December 2015 that they would upgrade Navy EA-18Gs with the TTNT data-link.
Following U.S. Navy missions in Operation Odyssey Dawn during the 2011 Libyan Revolution, the Royal Australian Air Force decided to add the Raytheon ATFLIR (forward looking infrared) pod to their order of 12 Growler aircraft. When Navy EA-18Gs' radar and radar detectors located possible targets, they passed the information through data-links to strike fighters. However, the Growlers themselves lacked the ability to visually confirm what it detected, so adding a FLIR pod gives it visual acuity to see targets and shorten the kill chain; it is not known if the U.S. Navy will also add a FLIR pod. Australian EA-18Gs will also be equipped with the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.