‘For all intents and purposes, the Growler weapons are there to help penetrate enemy air defenses and that sounds pretty offensive to me,’ Adam Daymude, US Navy EA-18G Growler pilot.
The EA-18G Growler is a variant in the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the proven F/A-18F Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite. Built to replace the EA-6B Prowler, the Growler is the first newly-designed electronic warfare aircraft produced in more than 35 years.
While the aircraft retains all of the F/A-18E/F’s multi-mission capabilities with its validated design and the capability to perform a wide range of enemy defense suppression missions, is the Growler able to perform offensive counter air and defensive counter air missions?
‘I want to clear one thing up first for some that might misinterpret how I’m answering this question. There are specific missions called offensive counter air [OCA] and defensive counter air [DCA] that involve going after or defending against airborne threats. My answer will be to get at what I believe the gist of this question is: is the Growler an offensive or defensive asset.
‘The answer is, like nearly every carrier aircraft, both. I’ll get the boring, but simultaneously terrifying, one out of the way first: fleet air defense. This is where the carrier battle group is being threatened by anti-ship missiles that were launched against it. We build layers of defense and the Growlers are important to that. I won’t get into what we actually did, but we weren’t exactly max performing the jet while doing it. What made it terrifying was that if you were doing it for real, there’s a chance there won’t be a ship to land on at the end of the mission. Slight pucker factor there. That would be just one of our defensive missions.’
‘Now for the fun! Let’s look at the weapons and we can decide from there if we consider them offensive or defensive.
‘1. Jamming pods. They’re not particularly sexy, unless you’re like me and know the absolute marvels that our jammers are. They’re also our bread and butter and what the entire aircraft is built around. Along with some other missions, we use them to jam RADARs to clutter up the enemy’s RADAR picture to make it hard for them to find our strike assets. I’ve always likened it to providing stealth-lite to non-stealthy aircraft. It’s called Electronic Attack, so it has to be offensive, right? But you’re attacking to defend. Still, on the whole I would call that offensive.
‘2. HARM, or these days more likely AARGM. Now we’re getting sexier! We’re shooting at something. But just like the jammers, they’re going after RADARs in an attempt to attack to defend. So, we’ll call this one offensive as well.
‘3. AMRAAM. This is what they make movies about! Two aircraft, duking it out in the sky. Fighter jets doing what they do best! This is as sexy as it gets in the aviation world. Except if that AMRAAM ever comes off the rail with intent, there will be two Growler aircrew about to jettison everything they can and run like hell because somebody slipped through the fighter screen and is about to target them. Funny how what most people would consider our most offensive weapon would almost only be used in a defensive situation.’
‘But for all intents and purposes, those weapons are there to help penetrate enemy air defenses and that sounds pretty offensive to me.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy