The US Navy has disclosed its plan to deactivate five expeditionary electronic attack squadrons and send 25 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft (roughly a third of the Defense Department’s tactical jet electronic attack force) to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Montham Air Force Base half in fiscal 2024 and half in fiscal 2025, Alert 5 says.
These five squadrons, VAQ-131, 132, 134, 135, and 138, are all based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. VAQ-209, the Navy’s only reserve VAQ squadron also has been used in an expeditionary role.
The Navy estimates the savings over the Future Years Defense Plan would be 807.8 million.
The service proposes to deactivate its entire expeditionary VAQ (electronic attack squadron) that uniquely supports U.S. Air Force and Navy shore-based operations, the recently released Department of the Navy’s fiscal 2023 budget highlights book laid out. The five expeditionary VAQ squadrons are separate from the Navy’s VAQ squadrons that deploy on aircraft carriers.
As reported by Sea Power Magazine, the US Navy is the only provider of expeditionary electronic attack jets to the joint force. The Air Force retired its last EF-111A Raven jets in 1998 and the Marine Corps retired its last EA-6B Prowler tactical jets in 2019. The expeditionary VAQ squadrons have deployed to Southwest Asia, Japan and Italy over the years in support of US and coalition forces. Last month, one squadron, VAQ-134, was deployed to the European Command as part of the build-up of forces in support NATO’s eastern flank after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The carrier-deployable VAQ squadrons are VAQs 130, 133, 136, 137, 139, 140, 141, and 142, with another, VAQ-144, set for establishment in October. All squadrons are stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, with the exception of one squadron (VAQ-141) attached to CVW-5, Forward Deployed Naval Force, based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff considers the expeditionary VAQ squadrons high-demand/high-value assets. The assessments of the various regional combatant commanders may be instrumental in reversing or mitigating the Navy’s proposal.
The first Growler test aircraft went into production in October 2004 and made its first flight in August 2006.
The first production aircraft was delivered June 3, 2008, to VAQ 129, the Growler Fleet Replacement Squadron.
The Growler Capability Modification (GCM) Program, the first major effort to upgrade EA-18G capabilities in the history of the program, commenced at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, in March 2021. The multi-year program is comprised of various engineering change proposals across several of the aircraft’s systems in common with the F/A-18E/F Block III. GCM will also provide the warfighter with a significant leap in electronic warfare capability to improve combat support for the Joint US and Allied forces, which includes integration of the Next Generation Jammer-Mid Band.
Growler Block II (GB2) is currently in development and will include spiral (phase-based) improvements. GB2 Phase 1 will provide dramatic upgrades to aircraft processing and electronic warfare algorithms, alongside additional upgrades like the Advanced Cockpit System. These enhancements to the Airborne Electronic Attack suite will enable the EA-18G to outpace current threats and maintain the lead throughout its planned lifecycle.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy
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