Stennis Puts New Growlers to the Test

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The EA-18G Growler and the advantages it brings are being tested for the first time in an integrated operational environment aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9 as part of Operation Evaluation (OPEVAL).

The Growler is an electronic attack aircraft, using the same airframe as the F/A-18F Super Hornet. It’s scheduled to replace the EA-6B Prowler in spring 2009 and continue the electronic attack mission in carrier strike groups.

“This carrier test is part of a large test matrix that we have for the airplane. Basically, it’s the final exam for the aircraft,” said VX-9 Electronic Warfare Branch Head Cmdr. Al Bradford.

Squadron pilots will fly during night carrier operations for the first time as they test the Growler’s overall practical operability on the flight deck.

“During the tests, VX-9 will evaluate how the aircraft and its electronic attack components hold up during carrier landings,” said Mike Dobelman, Boeing field service representative.

Stennis’ flight deck crew is providing feedback as they work with the new aircraft to help VX-9 evaluate handling the Growler.

One concern the squadron is seeking feedback on is the difficulty of identifying similar aircraft.

Air Department Mini Boss Brice Lund noted that the jamming pods located on the wings of the Growler is one way to prevent miss-identification from arising during flight deck operations.

However, using the same airframe as the F/A-18F gives the Growler many advantages over its predecessor.
Growlers fly with a two-man crew where the Prowler needs a crew of four.

“The Growler crew is able to do the same mission with half as many people because the airplane has a lot of automated features that the Prowler does not,” said Bradford. “Navigation, communications and the entire crew-vehicle interface is much more automated.”

Replacing the aging Prowlers will also cut down on the amount of maintenance squadron Sailors must perform.
Changing the engine on an EA-6B Prowler requires about two days of work. Changing the engine on the EA-18G Growler only takes about two to three hours.
Growlers also reduce the work load on the flight deck.

“The Prowlers can’t start on their own,” said Aircraft Handling Officer Lt. Eric Harrington. “They need to get assisted power, so that means more ground support up here. Having the Growlers up here does away with that, because now they can start on their own. That’ll minimize the amount of equipment and personnel that have to support that aircraft.”

Having the Super Hornet’s airframe not only makes improvements in operability, but adds new tactical elements, such as self-defense to the electronic attack mission.

While not intended for strike operations, the Growler can fire advanced medium-range, air-to-air missiles to defend itself.

Performing carrier landings on Stennis gives VX-9 a better sense of the Growler’s tactical capacities and functionality as they conduct OPEVAL.

Testing new aircraft in an operational environment ensures that the Navy has access to the most technically advanced and operationally ready military assets to carry out America’s Maritime Strategy.

E.J. Fabrizio (NNS)

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